Prospects of peace between Pakistan and TTP

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Irsa Bilal[1]

Pakistan is locked in a long war with Al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan
(TTP) a multifarious body comprising of an assortment of Jihadist groups harking back to the Afghan adventure of the eighties, and later sporing out as a consequence of incoherent foreign vs.domestic policy matrices. In December 2007, shortly after the Lal Masjid incident, 13 of these groupsunited under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud and formed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Today, the TTP poses a serious national security challenge to Pakistan, having strengthened its hold in various parts of the tribal belt, in particular, Waziristan, where it has supplanted the old administrative system with its skewed interpretation of Shariah. On account of its theological appeal TTP enjoys massive patronage in terms of man and material from: (a) groups and individuals subscribing to numerous smaller extremist outfits with big nuisance value; (b) a nod from the political Right, in addition to (c) lone wolf terrorists or grass-root Jihadists drawn in by the Global Jihadist Movement on account of Pakistan’s proximity with Afghanistan.

A faux pas national policy over the issue of the Taliban, clubbed with an array of ill-taken initiatives in the past from politicization of religion (Objectives Resolution 1958, Constitution of Pakistan 1973) to institutionalization of sectarianism (Islamization, the 18th Amendment), to Talibanization of religious fanatics for the furtherance of strategic ambitions, and later turning hot and cold like a rheostat against the same, has proven to be counterproductive and has only compounded existing threats.

From the many lessons that can be drawn out of the above observations a remarkably dormant threat-perception and ensuing failure to come up with a plausible conflict analysis is loud and out. In this essay an attempt has been made to decipher the ongoing insurgency and analyze Pakistan’s National Security Policy towards TTP in light of the Theory of Ripeness.

The government’s posture over the issue of terrorism is marred with nervousness and confusion. Where one province, in its moment of glory, tries to yank the strings away from the center, while, the latter fumbles its thinking hats. Prescriptions on matters of the State, especially those regarding sovereignty, ought to come in unison from institutions that are in place to serve the purpose. A charade of impromptu national policies seen through the month of November 2013, however, reveals just how powerless -and by extension, pointless – institutions of the State have become.

State sovereignty is an extremely delicate realm where conflicts and complexities continue to present an endless maze of challenges and even a simple delayed response can become a game changer. Clarity of observation, precision of analysis and delivery of the right note at the right time is key. While  dealing with internal insurgency such as the one Pakistan faces in TTP, it is important to focus on making the subjective understanding of the conflict transparent, in order to rid oneself of the intrinsic confusion characteristic of an ongoing conflict. Such an approach will afford Pakistan a vantage point from where it can effectively tailorits national security and strategic pursuits.

A good place to begin from is the way Pakistan handled Hakimullah Mehsud’s death and the issue of US Drone strikes. Pakistan was quick to condemn the drone attack that killed the TTP leadership. A statement issued on the occasion read: ‘the attack was in violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity’. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif – on receiving US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel – raised the same concern, arguing that drone strikes came in the way of peace talks with the Taliban. Down the beaten path, the government continued to lament drone strikes before the international community.  In Pakistan’s view,Hakimullah Mehsud and the much touted peace dialogue with TTP were casualties of US Drone Strikes.

In an active conflict where cause and consequence are interchangeable and hard to distinguish, US Drone Strikes that appeared to be the ’cause’ of discord were, in fact, the ‘consequence’ of Pakistan’s inability to purge its territory from extremist elements. To reiterate,drones are not the reason why the TTP had challenged the writ of the State; instead they are ‘symptoms’ of a larger conflict appearing in Pakistan’s overlapping internal conflict with the TTP, which, in turn is part of the global war on terror. The ensuing hyperventilation over the issue of Drone Strikes also serves as a classic example of how a conflict impresses itself in the system’s weakest point and not where it is actually ’caused’. Being an unconventional weapon, drones are subject to widespread criticism and thus serve convenient pressure point. Moreover, anti-US sentiment rooted in secular-liberal and Islamist-Religious quarters make the foreigner susceptible to receiving disproportionate dyspathy in Pakistan.

It is extremely important to not lose sight of the context while analyzing an active conflict.A diplomatic pursuit based on a flawed cause-consequence premise has taxed Pakistan strategically at a time when its role in the changing regional dynamics could have been instrumental. Lack of clarity on the foreign policy front has caused a diplomatic spill for Pakistan, distancing it away from the much coveted role of a strategic partner of the US in the region. In addition, Pakistan’s waffling in post Hakimullah months has allowed TTP the time and space to reorganize itself after its leader’s death.

The Prime Minister’s team for Foreign Affairs may have taken the United Nations General Assembly Resolution against Drone Strikes as a ‘great achievement on diplomatic front’ as Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, believes- yet, it has only estranged Pakistan from its biggest, most important ally out of neither good reason nor good value. UNGA fly-by-night resolutions are not binding upon member states and wouldoffer nothing beyondcompassionate lip service. What will stayis the National Defense Authorization Bill passed by the US Congress that can fiscally squeeze Pakistan by halting military aid along with Coalition Support Fund reimbursements.

With an impulsive China, a devious Iran and a mischievous Afghanistan, the US certainly would have appreciated a dependable Pakistan, especially after having invested so much and more so, since they seemed to share a common goal vis-a-visthe War on Terror. The trust deficit between the two, however,is soaring. Pakistan’s obvious distress over drone strikes puts a question mark on its commitment to the WoT. The same commitment for which Pakistan has been receiving substantial aid from the US and its allies; and has rendered immutable logistical and operational support over the years. A lopsided preference given to a frail probability of dialogue with the TTP, at the cost of a very real, long standing relationship with US highlights Pakistan’s deranged priorities and, as a result, its inability to synchronize its domestic and international policies.

Another perspective to explain this diplomatic blip can be sought in the theory of External Dependence. Proponents of this theory argue that since Pakistan has inherited an inescapable power-disparity, it never found itself to be in a position to flex its wings and take any viable, independent decision. Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, in an article titled, ‘Evaluating Pakistan’s foreign policy’ published in The News International on November 12, 2013 argued that since Pakistan has always outsourced problem-solving,its indigenous trouble-shooting capacity is stunted.This also explains for the lack of coherence between foreign and domestic policies and how the former always takes precedence over the latter.  Therefore, the national interest of Pakistan could hardly ever assume its due supremacy in the foreign policy calculus. Taking stock from external dependency theorists, it can be inferred that Pakistan’s TTP imbroglio is but a reflection of its problem-solving handicap.

The Dependency theory offers a rather self-observing inspection, drawing its proponents into an inward looking stance. What the theory lacks is an ability to afford a holistic interpretation of the conflict that could accommodate its global aspect. Unlike ethno-political insurgencies such as that in Sri Lanka against the Tamil or in India againstthe Dalits, Pakistan’s conflict has a theocratic enemy with a global agenda. This adds to the risk factor of third party stakeholders, making it impracticable for Pakistan to make unilateral peace overtures without keeping secondary parties on its side.

It is also hard to completely distill anti-US sentiment from the dependency theory, given our social proclivity for the latter. The TTP has been quick to sense the fault lines between the Pakistan-US alliance.The TTP’s spokesperson recently remarked,”Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It is powerless and dollar hungry…,” thereby, playing on the anti-UScard in order to swell its ranks.

Born out of the same facade is the NATO ground supply route controversy. The NATO blockade, indeed, was a misadventure on all accounts.  However, it,inadvertently, brought questions regarding terrorism to the forefront, which, till that point, had not graduated to an issue calling for an elaborate national strategy with cross-institutional consensus on a priority basis. Possibly driven by a looming fear of US barring aid as a result of the blunderous blockade; hastened by the quick trips of Chuck Hagel and Joseph Dunford, as we see it, the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) gave evidence of its existence. Talk of drafting a National Security Policy is underway as these lines are being penned. NSP is thought to be in prenatal stages of approval and will take a year for its implementation to take effect. So far what we know is, it would be a three pronged strategy with one part completely confidential, the second strategic and third operational.

The extent of confidentiality and how closely those secret sections would be pivoting NSP remains to be seen. As for now, a touchstone of NSP, as highlighted by the Interior Minister during a Press Conference on December 15, is “…the first option to eliminate terrorism in the country is dialogue and peace”. He reiterated during the conference that “This decision has been taken”. Earlier, during his meeting with the US Defense Secretary, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif maintained that the drone strikes were impeding his government’s efforts to ‘counter terrorism’.

While Imran Khan harped the anti-Drone anthem one had hoped that the civil-military leadership, cloaked in its silence, would carve out a more convincing plan. But, as it surfaced the dramatic NATO blockade was, after all, an ungainly manifestation of the very same stance. A dogged emphasis on peace and dialogue, in face of outright renunciation on the part of the TTP leaves one wanting to scrutinize NSP in search of a practicable rationale.

To recapture the course of events, the CCNS held its first meeting on Tuesday, December 17, 2013. Some of the salient features highlighted in the meeting were: ruling out the military option; commitment to peaceful negotiations with TTP stressed, with other options as a last resort; formulation of a national security strategy to safeguard national interests; strategy on internal security; and, lastly, relations with Afghanistan. The committee linked economic development and prosperity to security and stability in the country. It considered the enhancement of security in the western border as crucial to national security and development of FATA – bringing the standard of living in FATA at par with the rest of the country – as crucial for prosperity in the region. The meeting was well attended by top brass civil-military leadership along with the Prime Minister himself.

During the meeting some important thoughts were of note; CCNS articulated that ‘tough rhetoric does not mean negotiations have failed’, hinting on a possibility of backdoor negotiation already underway. Tariq Azeem, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s team explained: “The public posturing is different from what’s going on in the background…They want to appear tough but back channels show they are also interested in talks”. Prime Minister’s office also noted a respite in militancy after the change of leadership.

TTP made a quick rebuttal. While dismissing the option for peace talks, TTP’s spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid responded: “Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It is powerless and dollar hungry.”

The same day, a suicide bomb exploded outside the Rawalpindi Imambargah causing three casualties, while a low intensity explosive attack killed two near an Imam bargah in Karachi. The next day, a suicide bomber rammed an explosive laden car into a military checkpoint in Miran shah killing five soldiers, leaving 34 injured. This incident later escalated into a localized military raid in Miranshah after a team of security forces sent to recover the casualties was ambushed. A little known militant group, AnsarulMujahideen linked to the TTP claimed responsibility. This is the same outfit that would later threaten Imran Khan against his polio campaign in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Only a day after the CCNS linked a dip in violence to the change in leadership, there was a flurry of violent incidents from Khyber to Karachi, with four low key and one major attack in two days. Although the Pakistan Army slammed the militants in response to the ambush in Miranshah, Pakistan’s posture remains to be limited to that of a defensive option.

Out ofa multitude of fears brewing up in the thought bubble of many an analysts, the most ardentis one with Pakistan settling on a position of compromise that would neither pave way for resolution nor prove a worthwhile exercise. A peek into the conceptual burrows of Pakistan’s present stance can help explore how the policy of peace and dialogue enhances its ability to manage the conflict, or otherwise.

Theorists and practitioners of Conflict Resolution argue that ‘ripeness’ of a conflict is a necessary pre-requisite to peaceful negotiations. A‘ripe moment’ can simply be described as a scenario when both parties, in course of a conflict, reach a point where they don’t see themselves escalating to victory by means of violence and the current deadlock is painful to both of them. In such a scenario, non-violent alternatives appear to be winsome. Peace initiatives made at this moment are likely to bear a productive outcome. The concept of ripeness is extremely useful for carrying out a prescriptive analysis of a conflict, as well as to determine whether a peace initiative at a given point would bear fruit or not.

In his paper: The Time of Peace Initiatives: Hurting Stalemates and Ripe moments, WilliamZartmandescribes  ripeness as: “Parties resolve their conflict only when they are ready to do so – when alternatives, usually unilateral means of achieving satisfactory result are blocked and the parties feel that they are in an uncomfortable and costly predicament. At that ripe moment, they grab on to their proposals that usually have been in the air for a long time and that only now appear attractive”.

Zartman’ s idea of a ripe moment is rooted in the perception of a Mutually Hurting Stalemate (MHS) – adiscernment that a deadlock has been reached by both the parties and that they lie on the same plane as far as seeking a non-violent alternative is concerned.Kissinger during the second Vietnam War,observed: “stalemate is the most propitious condition for settlement’

It is interesting to note that if both parties fail to recognize that they have reached a deadlock it means that MHS has not, as yet, set in regardless of the degree of escalation. MHS is therefore a ‘perception’ of an objective condition, stalemate, and not the condition itself. However, if the parties do perceive themselves to be in such a situation, no matter how flimsy the indicators are, MHS is present

Perceiving MHSand agreeing on a possibility of ‘a way out’ are two necessary requisites of a ripe moment and thus, together they are instrumental in the success of a peace initiative. When conflicting parties share a sense that a negotiated solution is possible, their willingness or aspirationfor a way out gives the deadlock that, much needed, push to kick-start the peace talks. That is to say, without ‘a way out’ MHS remains merely perceptual which makes it necessary butnot a sufficient element of a ripe moment.

In the context of Pakistan, to determine if a moment is conducive for successfulnegotiations with the TTP to take effect, one needs to closely study the two integral elements: (i) perceived stalemate within the ranks of the militia, and (ii)aspiration for a way out through statements issued by the TTP.

A subjective evaluation ofstalemate involving intangible factors such as war weariness, morale, threshold to bear further escalation, etc., is hard to gauge on account of information constraints. However, internal rivalries between various factions indicate fragmentation which in turn winks at mistrust and lack of cohesion. Such a scenario does qualify for a likelihood of perceived stalemate amongst certain elements inside the TTP.

Objective evaluation involves cost of the conflict in terms of number of casualties along with loss of strategic and material assets, etc. Killings of BaitullahMehsud, Wali-Ur-Rehman, Qari Hussain Mehsud, Qari Zafar, MaulviNazir and HakeemullahMehsud have spurred an unending leadership crisis.AfterHakimullahMehsud, the rift between Mehsuds and Haqqanisis more pronounced than ever, while a power struggle between Mehsudsand non-Mehsuds is on a simmer.Based on these observations one can conclude that the objective evaluation verifies the presence of a hurting stalematewithin certain groups of the TTP.

The second indicator -‘a way out’- is easy to weigh on account of it being more tangible. The TTP has recentlyreinforced its convictionto achieving victory by escalating out of the current impasse.ShahidullahShahid, TTP’s spokesperson has told Reuters: “They should happily launch a military operation against us. We have seen their military operations in the past and would like them to start this long awaited operation”

Hence, there is no conclusive evidence of interest in‘a way out’ from the TTP’s side.Having ruled outnegotiations,the TTP has resorted to a full blown insurgency using a mix of terrorism and sectarian violence in its offensive against Pakistan.

In a fragmented organization such astheTTP, it is important to have ‘at least’ some of the factions perceiving stalemate and expressing or entertaining the idea of a way out. For instance, AsmatullahMuawiya is one known personality to have welcomed the idea of peace talks with the Government. However, Muawiya’s call for peace has been sidelined by the leadership. From the above observations, one may conclude that a conducivemoment for peace talks has not as yet set in, with the absence of ‘a way out’. However a mutually hurting stalemate may be present amongst various factions within the TTP.

Moreover, although a ripe moment is an essential prerequisite it, alone, does not guarantee successfulnegotiations asnot all ripe moments, when acknowledged and availed,have turned into successful peace talks. Certain factors play in to determine whether a conflicting party or a mediator can successfully initiate dialogue.

The three essential componentsthat determine the success of peace initiatives are:(i)Cohesion within the negotiating parties (ii)role of leadership (iii)Timing.

Cohesion within the negotiating parties

Internal cohesion within a party determines how it perceives a moment of ripeness, uses it to initiate a peaceful settlement and how promising those negotiations would turn out to be. In case of a fragmented party, some if not all factions must acknowledge a stalemate. Most importantly, the military element in each party should perceive MHS and perceive the alternative option of negotiations as the only path to success. It can be said that cohesion is directly proportional to the success of a dialogue.

The TTP is a fragmented organization comprising of multiple tribes and clans further divided into groups paying allegiance to chiefs of choice, forever battling to safeguard their, rather localized, interests. Quite often they find themselves conspiring against each other. After the death of Baitullah, a power struggle that ensued has found no end.

Thepower struggle between HakeemullahMehsudand Wali Ur Rehman, post Baitullah,proved lethal forWali whose whereabouts were tipped to the ISI by Hakimullah loyalists.Even before his death, loyalists of the two tribes had been engaged in a turf war in Karachi over extortion money. Later, as reports suggest, Hakimullah was targeted with the help of intelligence shared by RoshanWazir Group – a TTP affiliate in DandayDarpa Khel, a Haqqani stronghold.

After the death of Hakimullah, the mysterious killing of NasiruddinHaqqani by unknown gunmen epitomized thefall-out between Mehsuds and non-Mehsuds which continues to deepen by the day. The TTP leadership suspects Haqqanis of cooperating with the government.

The ensuing power struggle has engulfed many persons of influence from the Haqqani Network includingMaulvi Ahmed Jan (Haqqani) andSaifuddin, a commander and a loyalist of Khan Said Sajna, who was the successor of Wali-Ur-Rehman. Differences hadearlier surfaced when Sajna was appointed as Wali-Ur-Rehman’s successor without consultation of TTP’s Shura that was led by Hakimullah. This split has now further widened after a non-Mehsud, Mullah Fazlullah, has been elected over Sajna.

On the other hand, the fact that Mullah Fazlullah has spent four years across the border is seen with resentment amongst TTP ranks.The ever growing rift between Mehsuds and Haqqanis compounded with a power struggle between Mehsuds and Non-Mehsuds has sown scandalous controversies highlighting internal fragmentation, mistrust and forever deepening fissures within the organization.

BaitullahMehsud and Hakimullah were a source of inspiration to young Mehsuds. With a loss of top leaders including that ofMaulviNazir, Qari Hussain Mehsud and Qari Zafar, fresh recruitments are on the low.Mullah Fazlullah is a non-traditional (non-Mehsud) hard-liner and as mid-cadre commandersbelieve, is unable to represent Pakistani Talibans on account of his retreat across the border for four long years.

The TTP is remarkably disorganized. Certain factions perceivingstalemate have raised the white flag, yet these splinter groups are neither influential nor part of the current leadership and have been sidelined by the same. However, the leadership is grossly unpopular which falls to the advantage of the traditionalists.

-Role of Leadership

Leadership, again, is necessary yet insufficient on its own for productive negotiations to begin and end successfully.  A strong individual whose authority is uncontested and who can assure compliance to the points of agreement and commit to the same, on behalf of his party, is necessary for the success of peace talks. The one thing Mullah Fazlullah is not, is the representative of a myriad of factions that lie under the banner of TTP.

Mullah Fazlullah’s personality and current bearings can be compared to Prabhakaran, the leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka vis-a-vis his intra-LTTE conflict with his eastern counterpart Colonel Karuna. Prabhakaran was a powerful leader and a hardliner,however, like Mullah Fazlullah, he did not representall of the Tamils. Stephen John Stedman in his paper, “Peace processes and the challenges of Violence” held the leadership of Prabhakaran as a majorcontributing factor in a string of failed peace overtures initiated between the LTTE and the Government of SriLanka. Secondly, Prabhakaran often expressed his willingness to go back to arms similar to the current stance of TTP leadership. These two factors make it highly unlikely for Fazlullah, to initiate, welcome or respond to any peace overtures made by the government.


Pakistan’s economic and energy crisis along with a hoard of other ailments suggest that the state is not ready to cope with the repercussions of an all-out war. However, Nawaz Sharif’s initiative to seek an end to terrorism through peace overtures in the absence of the right indicators, will prove to be counter-productive and far more costly than the military option. ASwedish expert on Conflict Resolution, Professor Kristine Hoglund, in her research titled, “Violence and the peace process in Srilanka” notes: “violence and peace processes are not mutually exclusive and as peace process begins, violence does not immediately or automatically stop”. Another analyst, Krishna Kumar, a senior evaluation advisor to the State Department notes: “…despite the signing of an agreement, post conflict societies are hardly ever at peace since it takes time to eliminate fragmentation, polarization and the tendency to commit violence. Peace process in such an environment is fragmented at best”.

In the absence ofthe right conditions negotiations would only serve as a tactical interlude – a recess for rest or rearmament – and void of any sincere attempt to establish peace. Thus, Pakistan’scurrent posture towardsTTPis premature at best, in the absence of a ripe moment, lack of cohesion and a leadership crisis within the TTP.

[1] The author is an editor of Criterion Quarterly.