SPEAKING FREELY Pakistan Taliban eyes Afghan-style takeover
By Tanveer Jafri
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Pakistan has increasingly become a target for terrorist violence, particularly sectarian attacks, over the last two decades. As security forces prove no match for the insurgents, the wealthy and intellectual elites are fleeing the country.
The spread of extremism has hurt the country's international image. This was worsened by a Human Rights Watch report released last month which reported that terrorist groups are
operating with complete immunity in certain regions.
It is as if the government and military have either closed their eyes to terrorist activities or they are simply incapable of dealing with them. Concerns are being expressed that the insurgents will soon take over Karachi, as armed groups have done in cities in Iraq and Syria.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif face the seemingly insurmountable tasks of improving morale among security forces while also combating the spread of terrorism.
Murders and assassinations have become daily occurrences across the country. The heightened intensity of attacks by Sunni militant groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or Pakistani Taliban in recent weeks suggest their main motive is to create complete anarchy. However, these forces could also be planning to replicate the 1992 ouster of Mohammad Najibulla in Afghanistan by the Afghan Taliban.
Evidence of this can be seen in their targeting of army bases, security checkpoints and defense establishments, as well as their sectarian attacks on Shi'ites.
To commit these violent acts, they are recruiting fidayeens (suicide bombers) in large numbers. For instance, 12 security personnel were killed on January 22 in different attacks, while just two days earlier 22 army personnel were killed in the bombing of on army cantonment in the Bannu area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The TTP took responsibility for these attacks.
Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the TTP, claimed that the latter attack was carried out to avenge the killing of senior commander Wali-ur-Rehman last May. He said that Pakistan army was their enemy and that these strikes would continue.
Although Pakistan claims to have killed at least 40 terrorists in assaults on Taliban hideouts in the aftermath of these attacks, the government is still undecided over launching a full-scale operation in the tribal areas that give the TTP shelter.
Expressing the growing desperation of some Pakistanis over this delay, Bilawal Bhutto, son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has said that there is an urgent need to take military action against the terrorists.
Bilawal said that people like Osama bin Laden or other terrorists must not become the international face of Pakistan. Instead, the country must take a stand against insurgents and bring some hope to the population.
Meanwhile, taking another step ahead in talks with the Taliban, the Nawaz Sharif government has constituted a four-member committee to discuss the modalities of the talks. This committee includes two senior journalists, Rahimullah Yousufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, as well as former diplomat Rustam Shah Mohammed and retired Inter-Services Intellgence major Aamir Shah.
This committee will lead the talks with the Taliban, which were started last week, then submit a report to the Interior Ministry of Pakistan. However, one early potential stumbling block is the TTP's stipulation that the implementation of Islamic sharia law is necessary for peace.
"Sharia law is needed because the government, martial law and democracy have failed to solve the country's problems," said Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the head of the TTP's three-man committee set up for peace talks with the government. He added, "The Taliban are fighting a war for the implementation of a [Pakistan] constitution which has been violated by the leadership."
Such pre-conditions raise doubts that the Taliban will take the proposals of the Sharif government seriously. Meanwhile, it is unclear if the Pakistani army will continue to follow the government's orders if it keeps losing so many personnel in Taliban strikes.
Will the officials and army remain mute spectators to the theatre of violence? Does the Nawaz Sharif government or General Raheel Sharif have any idea about how deeply the extremists have infiltrated their ranks?
It can't be denied that the Sharif government feels threatened by the Taliban. That is likely why Sharif has started talks with the insurgents. It has been reported that his decision to create a four-member committee for these talks was taken to check growing desperation within the army over terrorism.
It seems the Pakistan Army is in no mood to tolerate more losses of personnel and more attacks on its establishments. However, terrorists are unlikely to fully honor the spirit of dialogue as they have already taken the path of violence.
In these circumstances, the likelihood of a military coup is increasing. What is required is a large, continuous and decisive assault on the Taliban. Otherwise, it won't take long before Pakistan becomes another Afghanistan.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.