Taming Taliban

February 08, 2014 - 2:51:04 am

Pakistan’s talks with the Taliban are unlikely to succeed, and the Sharif government needs to do everything to root out terrorism.


Pakistani politician Imran Khan has said that peace talks with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan — known as the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP – will probably fail and the result will be more terrorism. Khan is head of the party that runs the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan and he should know. The Pakistani government entered into formal talks with Taliban militants on Thursday. A four-member delegation appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met for several hours with three representatives of the Pakistani Taliban in what is considered a last-ditch attempt to avoid a major domestic conflict.

Though the process of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table in itself is an achievement, everybody, including Pakistanis and the international community, would like the talks to succeed and bring to an end a bloody insurgency that the government says has killed 40,000 Pakistanis since 2001. But Khan’s ominous warning is a cause for concern. A failure of the talks would push both sides to take extreme positions. The government will be forced to launch a military crackdown and the Taliban will retaliate with more deadly attacks.

The Taliban in Pakistan are a powerful militant force, extremely difficult to be tamed. Though the government will be able to launch a crackdown against these forces, the government of Nawaz Sharif needs to plan his offensive properly. He needs to take into confidence all the parties of Pakistan and launch an operation based on consensus. Parties have disparate interests and it’s not known to what extent they would cooperated with the government, but any small support from any quarter is welcome. Imran Khan is an influential figure in the region and can give immense help, if only the government is ready to listen to some of his demands. The former cricketer enjoys cordial relations with the Taliban and was even asked by the group to represent it in talks with the government. The invitation came as a huge embarrassment for Khan, which made him decline the it and distance himself from the group.

Nawaz Sherif must use every weapon in his arsenal to rid the country of Taliban threat. Not only Khan, many analysts remain deeply pessimistic that the prime minister can reach a meaningful peace treaty with the Taliban. Also, the militant group includes numerous factions and commanders and is splintered. Already, there were signs of division even among members of the delegation. The government is likely negotiate a pact in which it cedes authority to the Taliban in tribal areas in exchange for the group ending attacks in urban centers such as Lahore and Karachi.

The government needs to offer maximum concessions for the militants to join the mainstream, failing which it must use the military to bring peace to the country.