What is the Government’s real Taliban Strategy? – by Ali Hashim


With the complete silence on this matter after the recent APC Pakistanis are left wondering what is the Government’s real Strategy regarding the Taliban.
Whatever one may say about the present government one will have to agree that these people are essentially business people and not the warmongering type. They demonstrated this by taking a unilateral initiative and extending an olive branch towards India. More importantly they know that they have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting rid of the Taliban through military action, in view of the deep divisions between Pakistani politicians on this matter and also the tacit support the Taliban enjoy within significant sections of Pakistani society.
The Government would ideally want that this problem would just go away!  However this will not happen. So the next best thing is to try to carry on as best as one can and gain as much time and hope that as the end game in Afghanistan comes and end and US direct intervention is reduced, the Taliban would concentrate on securing their interest in a post US Afghanistan and leave Pakistan alone. In any case this could be a good time to re= assess the situation on the ground and proceed accordingly.
However the US pull-out is still a long way off. It is only by the end of 2014 that the US has stated its intentions to withdraw from Afghanistan. In these circumstances it appears that the Government will  likely try to develop an interim holding strategy to reduce the conflict as much as possible until the final situation on the ground becomes clearer.
In his upcoming visit to the US the Prime Minister will try to seek greater clarity about the real US intentions and also perhaps to get Mr. Obama to agree to at least a reduction of US drone strikes which keeps stirring up the Taliban hornet’s nest. In return he may offer support to ensure that the US pull out goes through with minimum hindrance.
If one looks closely,  one will see that the policies actually pursued by the Nawaz Sharif Government are in fact based on a plan that can buy them some time.
They convened an APC to get the agreement from all major political players  that the way out of this conundrum is to start negotiations with the Taliban.  This gives them some time as far as the political parties are concerned.  The wording of the agreement,  which calls the Taliban stake holders rather than  terrorists and says that the government will negotiate without any pre- conditions,  gives  the Taliban the assurance that the Government does not intend to start any military action for the medium term at least.
By getting the Army to agree to this they have been able to gain some time on this front also and reduce the pressure that they may have felt from the Army who would have been eager to proceed militarily and avenge the deaths of over 3000 service men.
So the Government plan seems to be sound.
However, the Taliban have shown no intention to stop their activities in Pakistan and they and their associates have carried out several attacks such as the bombing of the Church in Peshawar, the killing of the tourists in the mountains and that of the Army Major General and the assassination of some half a dozen law makers in KpK.
However, we notice that these attacks are mainly centered around  KpK and they have largely left Punjab alone.  It appears that in Punjab the government has adopted the same policy that the Shabaz Sharif Government had previously used in Punjab.   We will recall that when the Government was fashioning their Counter terrorism policy at the Center, the Punjabi Taliban came with an announcement which has since been repeated again that they are agreeable to negotiations.
Rana Sanaullah immediately welcomed this thereby making them appear to be a reasonable group and making sure that no action would be taken against them.
This was done, notwithstanding that these people are the main actors in sectarian killings in Pakistan and they and their associates the Lashkar e  Jhangvi has been directly involved in attacks on Pakistan’s critical military assets in the Mehran base attack, the attack on the Kamrah Air force base and the killing of the eleven French engineers who were assembling a nuclear capable submarine at the Pak Navy Dock yard.
This resulted in the TTP restricting their attacks in Punjab, which if we see closely were mostly carried out anyway against the military installations and the ISI etc. These attacks were carried out whenever the military carried out any significant operation against the TPP in FATA or Swat or elsewhere. Now by talking about the APC the Nawaz Government has gotten the military to stop these operations and as a result they have peace in Punjab – they have therefore achieved their local objective in Punjab.
The TPP continue to attack KpK and Sindh, but so what. How does this affect the Nawaz government? It in fact puts the Imran Khan government on the defensive which is good for them. As far as Karachi is concerned they have a similar attitude with regard to the PPP and ANP.
So I say that the Nawaz government’s policy is based on pure pragmatism and real politik!
The Taiiban’s medium term goals have to do with the establishment of an Islamic Emirates in the South and Eastern part of Afghanistan and FATA KpK, Swat (according to Mr. Najam Sethi).
They do not have any medium term goals for Punjab for the time being. So the policy that the government is following suits the TTP perfectly.  It keeps the military off their backs and gives them a free hand in KpK, their primary battle ground.
I do not hold the PML (n) Government totally responsible for the activities of the Taliban in KpK and Sindh.
After all these provinces have elected PPP and PTI led Provincial Governments. Why can they not design policies that would reduce TTP activity in their jurisdiction as the Punjab Government has done. Why can the PTI  not proceed against the TTP in their jurisdictions when the commit terrorist activities or spring 200+ prisoners from Jails in D.I. Khan.
To be fair, it is the PTI- JI  government and  Maulana  Fazlur Rehman who are equally to blame for TTP activities in KpK. Imran Khan has lost three MPAs to TTP suicide bombings and still thinks that the TTP are friends of KpK and Pakistan! The Maulana thinks the same.
However, the Government policies are perfect for Imran Khan also. He uses them to divert attention from this problem about which he does not want to do anything himself. He just blames the center for their inaction.
Likewise what is stopping the PPP government to proceed against the known hideouts of the TTP and Lashkare Jhangvi in Karachi?  Even now the clean-up operation in Karachi conveniently side steps the TTP and Jhangvi strong holds in Karachi.
I do not hold ANP completely free of responsibility either. Please recall that in Karachi when they were being warned that the TTP were gaining a stronghold they just saw this as an opportunity that together with the TTP they would be a good weight to the MQM. Please recall the remark of the ANP minister who said openly that the ANP has successfully driven a “Nakeel ” in the MQM – with the help of the Taliban..  Now the Taliban have successfully driven a Nakeel in ANP and with it the rest of KpK.
So we are all in it together and we reap what we sow!