Pakistani Government Misses Taliban Peace Talks

The Pakistani government failed to turn up to peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban earlier today. The two sides are supposed to be discussing a “road map” for serious negotiations. These talks about talks are off to a disappointing start, at least if one believes either side is sincere. A more accurate view of the talks suggests that they are just another means of fighting the war going on between the two.

The pretext the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif offered was its desire to know who represented the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP]. The negotiators for the TTP don”t seem to be actual members but rather are fairly senior Islamists who are on record as wanting sharia law in Pakistan. The government says it wants to be sure that they speak for the TTP. Originally, there were supposed to be five members, now there are three. Quite why this reduction is a problem, one cannot say, but that is the official line.

At the same time, the government’s team is a bit removed from the side it represents as well. Irfan Siddiqui is the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Affairs and coordinator of the peace dialogue committee. Mr. Siddiqui is a journalist, as is fellow committee member Rahimullah Yusufzai. They are joined by former diplomat Rustam Shah Mohmand and retired major Mohammad Aamir, formerly of the Inter Services Intelligence agency.

The discussions are likely cover for military preparations, at least from the TTP. In truth, there isn’t much to discuss. The TTP wants sharia law and opposes democratic institutions. The government insists that the constitution is paramount — indeed, to concede anything in this regard to the TTP would be to negotiate the government out of existence. By the same token, it is hard to see the TTP accepting the government’s authority any place the TTP currently is in charge.

Things are further complicated by the fact that the PM talks a good war, but he has been exceedingly reluctant to order the military to do anything of substance against the TTP. Agence France Presse reported, “Talk of a full offensive in North Waziristan rose last month when the air force bombarded suspected Taliban hideouts following two major attacks on military targets. But no operation was launched and critics accused Sharif’s government of dithering in response to the resurgent violence.”

Charitably, one could argue that the PM’s approach is one of caution, hoping that by not attacking the TTP where it is based, the TTP will not attack where the government is in control. It hasn’t worked; in January, 110 people died in TTP attacks. Alternatively, there may be some concern that the military would not obey an order to go after the TTP. The government may want to be sure of the army before it acts.

The talks may still get off the ground. After all, the reason the government didn’t turn up is pretty lame. If they begin, they are likely to lead nowhere because of the mutually exclusive demands of both sides. Instead, the TTP will use the talks as a way to delay the fighting until the US has left Afghanistan and will be less able to intervene. Meanwhile, the government will use the talks to try holding down the attacks on civilians. It is merely war by another means.