Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Pakistan: Opposite views on negotiations with Taliban

According to media reports the negotiations between the Government of Pakistan (GoP) and notorious banned outfit Therik-e-Taliban (TTP) had commenced. Providing no other details about who was taking part or what would be discussed, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said talks have started with the TTP. One can recall that during the election campaign PML-N enjoyed support of TTP, which otherwise attacked election meetings of ANP, MQM and Taliban. Sharif was elected mainly by promising to negotiate with militants who have killed thousands of civilians and security personnel.

Many in Pakistan are frustrated that years of military operations in the tribal areas, where the militants have their safe havens, have failed to end the violence. They see negotiations as a necessary step. However, others strongly believe that stringent actions should be taken against the perpetrators. This clear split in thinking became evident if one looks at the proceedings of the meetings of two religious factions held on the same day but in two different cities.

Before going into details of these two proceedings it is necessary to look at the stance of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), headed by Imran Khan, who has threatened to cut off Nato supplies moving through Pakistan if the US launches any drone strikes during the talks. Khan went to the extent of saying that his party had the capability to stop the Nato supplies and warned that his words must not be taken lightly. His party controls the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northern Pakistan where one of two routes handles supplies in and out of Afghanistan. Pakistan had suspended Nato supplies in the past.

The Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has urged the government to set the agenda of dialogue with Taliban and inform the nation about it. The demand was made at the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Conference held in Multan on Sunday. It was presided over by Hafiz Allama Mohammad Tahir Mehmood Ashrafi, the chairman of the PUC. Various leaders attending the conference demanded that the dialogue process should start without delay and the talks should be initiated through tribal elders and notables.

As against this an ‘Azmat-i-Wilayat’ Conference held in Karachi on the same day under the auspices of Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) opposed any dialogue with the Taliban and demanded a Swat-like military operation to eradicate terrorism. A resolution adopted at the conference pointed out that neither the US nor the terrorists could be friends of Pakistan because both of them had been attacking Pakistan and Pakistanis, including civilians and military personnel, and their property and installations. 

It was also stated, “A fixed match is being played between the terrorists and the US to prolong their two-pronged anti-Pakistan terrorism”. MWM Chief Allama Nasir Abbas Jafari stressed the need for forging Sunni-Shia unity. He said the unity of Shias and Sunnis of the subcontinent had created Pakistan and now their unity could save the country.

Allama Sahib said the terrorists are free to move about and no action was being taken against them. "There should be no talks with the Taliban...we will always support the oppressed," Abbas said. He also alleged that PML-N was afraid of confronting the terrorists and of tackling them. Another MWM leader Amin Shahidi said engaging the Taliban in dialogue was unconstitutional.

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