ISLAMABAD: Commander Asmatullah Muavia, who was sacked by the central Shura of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Friday for welcoming Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif’s recent offer of talks to the “armed militants”, started his jehadi career from the platform of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
He then joined the ranks of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and later launched Janood-e-Hafsa before becoming the ameer of the Punjabi Taliban.Muavia had launched Janood-e-Hafsa (the fist or union of the Jamia Hafsa) to avenge the killing of Maulana Abdur Rasheed Ghazi and his followers in the July 2007 military operation against the fanatic clerics of the Lal Masjid in the heart of Islamabad.
The prime aim of the Janood was to target the military and the intelligence agencies as well as their headquarters, foreign dignitaries and the Shia community. Commander Aqeel alias Dr Usman, the ring leader of the ten TTP fidayeen attackers who had stormed the GHQ in Rawalpindi in 2009, was a close aide to Muavia whose execution has already been postponed by the PML-N government, as demanded by the ameer of the Punjabi Taliban.
According to some TTP insiders, welcoming Nawaz Sharif’s dialogue offer was not the only reason that compelled the Taliban Shura to proceed against him. They alleged that Muavia had been in touch with the PML-N leadership for quite some time now and had struck an “unannounced deal” with the Punjab government through Malik Ishaq, the Vice President of the Ahle-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), who actually commands the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Subsequently, the TTP insiders alleged, the Punjabi Taliban headed by Muavia refrained from carrying out any suicide attacks in the Punjab and concentrated on targeting the security forces and the military installations. But Muavia’s close aides refute these allegations and describe the TTP leadership’s decision as hasty and one-sided.
The Punjabi Taliban led by Muavia had carried some major terrorist activities across Pakistan in the recent past – the latest being the June 2013 killing of 10 foreign tourists in the Nanga Parbat area of Gilgit Baltistan. A Spokesman for the Punjabi Taliban had claimed that these killings were carried out to avenge the death of Commander Waliur Rahman in a US drone attack near Miramshah in May 2013.
“By doing this, we wanted to send a message internationally,” he added. Besides being the ameer of the Punjabi Taliban, Muavia also serves as one of several al-Qaeda “company” commanders. In fact, Atiyah Abdul Rehman and Abu Yayha Al Libi, two top aides to Osama bin Laden who have since been killed in US drone strikes in Waziristan, had mentioned the existence of these companies in a December 2010 letter addressed to the TTP Ameer Hakeemullah Mehsud.
Muavia had appeared in a propaganda video [released in February 2013] on the Jamia Hafsa Urdu Forum and praised Ajmal Kasab of the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Afzal Guru of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who were hanged for their involvement in the Mumbai terror attack and the Indian Parliament building attack. He stated that their executions would only strengthen the jehadis’ resolve to attack India and liberate Jammu and Kashmir.
Muavia also threatened that attacks in India will increase in near future as jehadis shift their focus from Afghanistan to India and Kashmir after the United States withdraws from the region.
Asmatullah Muavia’s threat of terror attacks in India came two months after he extended in December 2012] a conditional ceasefire offer to the Pakistan government which envisaged an end to Islamabad’s participation in the Afghan war and the reshaping of the Constitution and foreign policy according to the Quran and Sunnah.
The ceasefire offer was made through a letter which was endorsed by the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, saying it had the full backing of the TTP leadership. As things stand today, both Asmatullah and Ehsanullah have already been sacked from their respective slots for overstepping their authority and issuing controversial statements on their own.
While Muavia has already welcomed Sharif’s dialogue offer, the chances of a peace deal between the government and the Taliban are grim, mainly because of the split between the Pushtun and Punjabi Taliban and the fact that the civilian and military authorities are not on the same page on the issue of dialogue.
The Pushtun Taliban had earlier declared that they would not negotiate with the army and instead they would talk to the government, saying all the previous deals signed with the military were violated by the army. However, they have now refused to respond positively to the dialogue offer extended by the prime minister.
Therefore, the khaki circles maintain that the Taliban were never sincere in holding peace talks and that even in the past all the peace deals signed with the militants had actually been discarded by the Taliban who used these pacts to regroup and strengthen them to launch fresh attacks against the security forces. Even today, the khaki circles say despite welcoming the prime minister’s dialogue offer even the Punjabi Taliban have neither laid down arms nor stopped their terror spree to show they were actually sincere about a truce.
While extending an offer of peace talks to the PPP government on February 3, 2013, the then TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan named Nawaz Sharif, Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Prof Munawar Hassan as the three guarantors the Taliban would like to have in a peace pact with the government “to ensure that the Pakistan Army, which is the real power in the country, does not violate the pact, as had been the case with the previous peace deals”.
However, since the military leadership was of the view at that time that the government should not hold talks with the Taliban unless they lay down arms, the TTP decided to temporarily suspend its offer of talks on March 20, 2013. Well-informed khaki circles insist that even today, as the government and a section of the Taliban are giving good will gestures to each other to initiate talks, the stance of the military leadership remains the same – there should be no talks with the Taliban unless they lay down arms and concede to the authority of the state of Pakistan.
The military establishment made public its stance on the Taliban’s dialogue offer on March 23, 2013 through an official statement released after the quarterly meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (JCSC) — to continue the ongoing fight against terrorism at all costs. The JCSC is the principal advisory body of the Pakistan armed forces led by the CJCSC while its members include the Naval, Air Force and the Army Chiefs.
“It was reiterated in unequivocal terms during the meeting that the war against terrorism will go on and a comprehensive strategy will be followed by the armed forces to combat the terrorist threat being faced by the country,” the principal military advisory body proclaimed after the JCSC meeting.
The reluctance of the khaki leadership to take a lead role in the peace talks stems from the past record of the peace agreements signed with the Taliban, most of which – Shakai deal (March 2004), Sararogha pact (Feb 2005), Miramshah deal (Sept 2006), Khyber pact (Sept 2008) and Swat deals (April and May 2008) – had ended in failure.