Defence and security analysts, who are closely monitoring Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the United States (US), see a major shift in his tone and tenor vis-à-vis the dialogue process with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) while en route to Washington.
They say the peace process may remain a “non starter” due to the changes taking shape in and across the region.
In a detailed conversation with Pakistan Today on Monday, eminent journalist and security expert Salim Safi, and noted defence analysts Lt General (r) Talat Masood and Brig (r) Mahmood Shah were of the view that the dialogue may remain a dream as all the major players involved in the talks – including the TTP and the ruling parties in the Centre and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – were politicising the issue just to grab attention and win political mileage rather than making a real effort to sit together and resolving the issues with sincerity.
Since the conclusion of the all parties conference (APC) in last week of September during which all political forces of the country had resolved to hold dialogue with the TTP, the PML-N government has taken no practical steps in this regard so far.
Sources in the government claim that the dialogue process had been derailed by the Taliban soon after the APC when two top military officers, including the Malakand general officer commanding (GoC), had been assassinated by Taliban.
On the other hand, the experts say the Taliban have also increased attacks against the KP government and the military including the assassination of KP law minister Israrullah Gandapur, who was killed on Eidul Azha.
Safi said the dialogue process had not begun so far despite the passage of a month since the APC. He said he did not see any breakthrough as the government looked confused and its leadership lacked clarity in this regard.
“I can safely state that I don’t see any breakthrough in the dialogue process and this will remain a non-starter,” he asserted.
During the discourse, Masood said the prime minister’s remarks made in London reflected his attempt to give a message to the world that Pakistan wanted to hold unconditional talks with the Taliban but the response from the Taliban was in negative.
“Despite the government’s talks offer, the Taliban carried on attacking the military and civilians and did not help create conducive environment for the talks. Now in the wake of Nawaz Sharif’s US trip, I don’t expect that talks with militants will succeed. Talking alone won’t be fruitful and policy of carrot and stick may work. The Taliban would carry on attacks on military and civilians and the government’s response finally would be in the same manner,” he added.
Asked if this meant that the onus of the failure of the dialogue process lay with the Taliban, General Masood said the responsibility of failure of dialogue process would rest with the Taliban and not the government.
“The Taliban are hampering the government’s efforts to raise the social sector and the life of the common public. All they are interested is to impose their writ and expand it further,” he said.
He said the army was now in a transitional phase. “As far as the appointment of the new army chief is concerned, no individual appointment will matter and any officer given the duty would handle any operation or talks process,” he said.
“If the army does not cleanse the TTP leadership by year 2014, the Taliban will turn into a very potent force and they will cultivate more and more strength in league with the other likeminded factions”.
Eminent defence strategist Shah said the PML-N government looked cautious and its leadership was confused and threatened while dealing with the subject.
“Probably, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif knows that the government will finally have to take action against the TTP and that is why he is buying time as he is afraid that any action will have a reaction in Punjab where his own party’s government will be attacked. Anyway, the Sharifs will have to adopt a clear stance under a clear headed approach”.
He said the TTP leadership was not serious in talks and the unabated attacks against the army and the KP government functionaries reflected that they wanted to fight.
“The PTI and other pro-talks parties are politicising the issue. There is a race between the PML-N, the JUI-F and the PTI for taking stronger pro-Taliban stance. But they can’t appease the Taliban who will target each and every party or local elder who has capacity to organise the locals. In past they were attacking the ANP and the PPP and now they are attacking the PTI,” he said.
He said PTI Chairman Imran Khan had sabotaged the APC, saying that only talks could resolve the matter. “I wonder how the federal and the KP governments will pass through their five-year tenures with such a policy,” he said.
Mazari defends PTI stance:
PTI Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari, however, defended her party’s policy, saying the government’s failure to move on the APC mandate was one reason the terrorists felt “emboldened” and had increased their attacks.
Expressing disappointment over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s statement given upon arriving in the US, she said the prime minister was clearly not stating the truth hen he said “talks had begun” but were derailed because “violence erupted”.
“In fact the government has not moved at all to begin implementation on the mandate of the APC… while terrorism and violence did not suddenly ‘erupt’ but have been prevalent with growing intensity which is why the APC sought dialogue to give peace a chance,” she said.
She said such false statements to appease the US bode ill for Pakistan but she hoped that the prime minister would take a resolute position on drones and make it clear that Pakistan would not tolerate drone attacks anymore.