By Manzar Zaidi
Mar 22, 2014
Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has recently put forward different modalities to engage with the state, offering to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistan Army, naming three senior political figures as guarantors to the talks, and most recently naming a committee. A brief history of previous such deals in Pakistan are indicative of what the latest may offer.
Pakistani forces first entered FATA in 2001–2002, subsequently discarding military operations which sustained high casualties in favour of negotiated peace. A deal was struck with the militant commander Nek Muhammad Wazir in South Waziristan known as the ‘Shakai Accord’, which broke down because of Wazir’s death from a missile attack in June 2004. After a hasty blockade of the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, the state entered into another agreement known as the ‘Sararogha Accord’. Attacks on security forces resumed in July 2005, which led to talks, resulting in another peace deal. After the agreement, there were persistent reports of a threefold increase in Taliban attacks on coalition forces in Afghan districts of Khost and Paktia adjoining Waziristan. The deal disintegrated in the wake of the Lal Masjid incident, when an unruly radical madrassah in the federal capital of Islamabad was raided with much ensuing bloodshed. Another peace treaty signed in March 2007 with TTP commander Maulvi Faqir Muhammad turned sour when 80 students of a religious seminary at Chenagai lost their lives, ostensibly by a U.S. unmanned drone.
The Pakistani government also signed an abortive peace deal in Khyber Agency after the tribal operation ‘Sirat-e-Mustaqqim’ with Mangal Bagh of Lashkar-e-Islam, a TTP affiliate. Attempts at peace in Swat with the paramount TTP commander Maulana Fazlullah all fell into disarray as well in the wake of ‘operation Rah e Haq’. According to terms of a peace agreement in May 2008, Fazlullah agreed to cease attacks on Pakistan security forces and other government installations in the area, deny shelter to foreign militants in the Swat region, dismantle his militia and terrorist infrastructure, and end anti-Pakistan and antigovernment propaganda in the region. The Pakistani government agreed in turn to release militants from jail, promulgate Islamic Sharia in the region, establish an Islamic university in Swat, and effect withdrawal of troops from the Swat region. In June 2008 Fazlullah started complaining about tardy implementation of the agreement, and using this as a pretext, resumed attacks against the state. In response, Pakistani Army launched Operation ‘Rah-e- Haq II’ in July 2008, relying on air power and artillery, again without much success against the guerrilla tactics of the Taliban. Meanwhile the TTP in Bajaur opened another front; the army was forced to withdraw a substantial number of troops from Swat to concentrate on ‘Operation Sherdill’ in the area contiguous to Durand Line. Swat remained unsettled as well, and ‘Operation Rah-e-Haq III’ was launched in January 2009 to secure the district capital Mingora.
It seems that whenever TTP appear to be negotiating from a position of strength, they start making increasingly strident demands. In July 2008 for instance, TTP leader (late) Baitullah Mehsud asked the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to resign, or face the brunt of TTP suicide attacks throughout Pakistan. Even though the ANP-led KP government rejected these demands, this is indicative of TTP’s propensity to raise the threshold of negotiation when a settlement is in sight. Again, more recently, along with the latest peace offerings TTP carried out terrorist attacks like the recent ones in Serai Naurang and Lakki Marwat, which left 13 security personnel dead.
Operations ‘Rah E Rast’ in Swat and ‘Rah e Nijat’ in South Waziristan marked the end of the negotiation process, and it seemed that TTP had been forced on the defensive. However, there has been a trend of escalating sectarian terrorist attacks in Baluchistan and attacks on security forces in KP in Pakistan recently, which may have induced some battle fatigue. Karachi is also beset by endemic violence. Thus, the TTP peace offers mediated through political guarantors seems designed to follow on the heels of political uncertainty and continuing terrorist attacks. These offers have been extended when the government seems poised to end its tenure, with uncertainty in political circles about the interim apparatus to be set up before next elections.
From a strategic perspective TTP have obtained many advantages from various agreements between them and the government. Such agreements tended to occur when the military, after initial difficulties, began to regain lost ground. Talks, usually brokered by third parties such as tribally constituted arbitration bodies (jirgas) tended to be proposed when operations were reaching their peak offensive capabilities. However, many agreements that seemed to be heading toward success were interrupted midway along their ‘‘trend lines.’’ The Pakistani government’s counterinsurgency policy was initially inconsistent; ineffective military operations tended to be followed by negotiations, usually succeeded by a cease-fire. The intermittent cease-fires tended to be violated by the TTP, the intervening period ostensibly being used either to strengthen their positions, or by capturing security personnel and imposing their radical laws on the local populace. Thus, all the preceding peace deals have fallen flat on their faces, which promoted Pakistan to adopt a no compromise stance towards TTP in the guise of vigorously pursued operations like ‘Rah e Rast’, which restored the writ of the state in Swat. TTP’s insistence of political guarantors is perhaps the only new facet of such offers by TTP. It remains to be seen what the fate of the latest deal will be.