By Muhammad Suleman
Dec 2, 2013
The newly selected chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Mullah Fazlullah is more ‘lethal’ than his predecessors, and his selection as a chief of TTP shows that the TTP don’t want to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan. TTP can, on the other hand, now openly carry out multiple attacks in Pakistan to ‘avenge’ the death of their slain chief Hakeem Ullah Mehsood and in retaliation to the continuous drone strikes in the tribal areas. The TTP attacks can compel the government of Pakistan to carry out military operations against TTP and once again the dialogue process would fail as it has happened in past.
When Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif took oath of office as the prime minster of Pakistan, he promised the nation that he would find a solution to terrorism and eradicate this menace via peaceful ways. Following this, he called an All Parties Conference (APC) in order to take on board advice from other parties for how to eliminate terrorism from country. All Parties agreed on a dialogue process to begin with, suggesting that this issue required sensitivity on part of the government, and must be resolved through dialogue. For this purpose, the government had given a green signal to the Taliban for negotiation, and in response some factions of Taliban also showed some interest, despite setting various tough conditions.
Once the process started to get developed, several analysts highlighted the concern that some stakeholders may intentionally attempt to create mistrust and misperception between the government and Taliban, in order to derail the dialogue process. And what was feared then occurred. One of the Taliban factions, Mullah Fazalullah group, killed a top brass commander, Major General Sana Ullah and his aides. This step created disappointed in government sector, but the government decided to push on and continued to emphasize on dialogue. Drones continuously violated Pakistan’s sovereignty, despite Pakistan’s protests. The twist in the story came when the TTP chief Hakeem Ullah Mehsood was killed in a drone strike. This act resulted in a very strong Taliban reaction, who flared up and stopped all developments related to negotiations with government representatives and also announced that this offer was no longer on the table.
Soon after the death of Hakeem Ullah Mehsood, the TTP Shura unexpectedly chose the name of Molvi Fazlullah, a notorious hardliner. Mullah Fazlullah is a far more dangerous man than the other Taliban leaders. In Swat, he had made two agreements with government – the first in 2008 and a second in 2009 – and both times he challenged the government writ and reneged on his commitment. He burnt hundred of girls’ schools. When he took control of Swat, he converted the “Green Square” of Mingora into “Bloody Square”. He and his colleagues personally slaughtered many soldiers as well as innocent people in Swat. Bullet-ridden bodies were hung almost every day on Bloody Square. He burned televisions, CDs and other entertainment equipment shops, worth over 20 million rupees, as all these are ‘sources of sin’. Furthermore in 2012, he beheaded seven soldiers of the Pakistan army. His colleagues attempted to assassinate Malala Yousafzai and he was also responsible for the death of a Major General of Pakistan Army along with one lieutenant colonel in a roadside bomb blast. Following this incident, his faction launched a video on social media in which he claimed that his next target would be Chief of Army Staff General Kiyani. He is known to have said, “We will remove any hurdle to enforcing Sharia, our goal is very clear, we want law of Allah in Allah’s land.”
The motives of the TTP Shura in selecting such a ruthless man as the TTP chief is a clear indication of the direction in which the group wants to move. It enables the Pakistani leadership to predict future development of their relationship with the TTP.
The majority of the TTP leadership doesn’t want to continue the dialogue process with Pakistan, as Fazlullah is against dialogue, because TTP understands that Pakistan had been betraying with them on the name of dialogue process. Similar thinking resulted in the failure of his agreements with government in 2008 and 2009, and now he is unequivocally against dialogue. The selection of such a ruthless person as the TTP Chief also indicates that the TTP wants to avenge the killing of their chief, and teach Pakistan a lesson in the process. The TTP wants to create more panic in society in order to achieve their political ends, using Fazlullah’s violent background as their tool.
It is also possible that once again the Taliban plan to expand their guerilla-war theater to the administrative areas outside of Wazirstan, as Mullah Fazlullah belongs to Swat—an administrative area of Pakistan. Some elements of Mullah Fazal Ullah’s faction still exist in Swat and other parts of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province. They can create trouble in Swat and outskirt areas under the command of the newly selected chief of their own faction and TTP.
The ruling government belongs to Punjab, and the TTP considers the Pakistan government to be an American ally in the War on Terror, so it may be possible that they would hit Punjab with suicide bombers.
The Taliban may carry out attacks against the ‘Shia’ sect, fuelling sectarian violence in the country, as Fazlullah’s vision is that of a Sunni state.
The selection of Molvi Fazlullah – a non Waziri, also indicates that there are some internal conflicts among Taliban leadership on the selection of a new leader; before this, all TTP chiefs have belonged to the Waziristan tribal area of Pakistan.
No doubt from a security point of view, the coming days are critical for Pakistan. Realistically, Pakistan has to take defensive measures to counter any upcoming threat from the TTP as well as taking offensive measures to counter these threats at their root. Afghanistan is providing shelter to the TTP leadership on Afghan soil, which is where Mullah Fazlullah is hiding, with full security of Afghan intelligence agencies. The TTP Shura also held their meeting in Afghanistan, during which they selected Mullah Fazlullah and Khalid Haqani as their chief and deputy chief respectively. The capture of the TTP commander Latif Ullah Mehsood from the Afghan intelligence by American forces and the confession of Afghan intelligence that they want to ‘use TTP against Pakistan’ strengthens the belief that Afghanistan is fully supporting the TTP. In this regard, the Afghan factor is very important and Pakistan should seriously hold talks with Afghanistan to close down TTP activities from Afghanistan.
If the government decides to renew its attempts to dialogue with TTP, it will be sending the message that they want to resolve this issue through dialogue despite the killing of an Army General and a TTP chief. There will once again be threats and increased chances that some stakeholders will derail this process again. Secondly, the new leadership of the TTP has no flexibility towards the government and they would not agree on dialogue, and even if they did, the terms and conditions would be so steep as to be unacceptable for the state. If the new leadership of TTP tries to expand the guerrilla war up to administrative areas of Khyber Pakhtukhwa and carry out suicide attacks in other parts of the country, then the government of Pakistan will have no option but to launch a military operation against the TTP. At the end, a military operation appears to be the sole viable option rather than dialogue, but the outcomes of such an operation and its implications remain shrouded in a mist.