Facts are facts. They should be admitted because they illuminate the way forward.
On February 12, Taliban terrorists stormed the house of an Aman Lashkar (Peace Force) activist on the outskirts of Peshawar and mowed down nine family members in cold blood. Zafar Khan, the object of the Taliban’s wrath, and his two brothers and nephews were killed earlier, on February 2. This time the Taliban came and wiped out his remaining family members.
Since the last All Parties Conference was held in Islamabad on September 9, 2013, to back a resolution for initiating peace talks with the Taliban, 313 people have been killed and over 400 injured in Taliban attacks on security agencies, political leaders and lay civilians in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa alone. Indeed, since the PMLN government decided on January 29, 2014, to make a last ditch effort to engage the Taliban in committee-led talks aimed at securing a ceasefire, there have been 15 terrorist attacks in the last fifteen days in KPK in which 75 people have lost their lives and over 200 have been seriously injured.
The Taliban have now announced plans to target the minority Ismaili sect and the polytheistic Kalash tribe in Chitral valley. A 50-minute video was uploaded on a Taliban website on February 2 warning the Kalash to convert to Islam or face death: “We will eliminate you along with your Western protectors, the Western agents, if you don’t embrace Islam”. The video accuses foreign-funded NGOs of creating an “Israel-like” state in Chitral by protecting the Kalash and luring them away from Islam.
Much more ominously, the Aga Khan Foundation of the Ismailis is targeted for reprisals. “The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam”, says the accusing video, “they are espionage tools in the hands of foreigners”. It should be noted that the Aga Khan Foundation is a leading social welfare organization in Pakistan and caters to the needs of the Ismaili community in Karachi and Northern Pakistan.
In the last two years, TTP leader Maulana Fazlullah’s group has been particularly active in the Dir and Chitral areas that border his base area in North-Eastern Afghanistan and the Pakistan army has launched several operations to counter and chase out the terrorists. It is also well established that Karachi and Northern Pakistan are subject to sectarian violence by extremist groups allied with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After the continuing genocidal violence against the minority Hazaras in Balochistan, any Taliban targeting of the Ismailis would provoke an angry worldwide backlash in view of the Aga Khan network’s global goodwill, and halt its philanthropist activities in Pakistan that cater to millions of needy people.
Now a hitherto unknown “breakaway” Taliban group, that calls itself “Ahrar-ul-Hind” has vowed to continue its attacks on the “enemies of Islam”. It has rejected the core demand of the TTP for control of the tribal areas from Pakistan instead of imposition of Shariah across the country. This organization was active in the Mohmand Agency but has now relocated to the north above Kunar in the northern Pakistan border with Afghanistan. The name of the organization suggests links to urban jihadi groups in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the two committees set up to negotiate with and on behalf of the Taliban are seemingly stuck on a list of demands and counter demands. The government is only insisting on two pre-conditions, ie, that the constitution, which is sufficiently Islamic in the sense that it doesn’t allow any law repugnant to Islam to prevail, is non-negotiable, and the negotiations are only in relation to the situation of militancy and unrest in the tribal areas. The Taliban, however, have made a dozen demands before they will agree to a ceasefire. These include a withdrawal of the army from FATA, release of thousand of Taliban prisoners and compensation of billions to them and to the families of deceased Taliban, and an end to drone strikes. They have also disclaimed responsibility for the continuing acts of terrorism by franchises affiliated to the TTP. This effectively means that they want to talk AND fight.
The Pakistan army is also resolved to hit back if and when it is attacked regardless of any on-going talks process.
Finally, there is the unresolved question of the drones. The Americans have said that if they find a high value target they will not be afraid to press the button. This could be problematic if any senior member of the Haqqani network or Maulana Fazlullah is hit. Taliban supporters like Imran Khan will claim that the Americans have deliberately sabotaged the talks and the peace process will be derailed.
So these are the facts: breakaway Taliban groups, continuing terrorist attacks, unpredictable drones, unacceptable demands, increasing confusion and rifts among Taliban committee members. Come March, we should dig in for targeted strikes by the army and a Taliban backlash in the Punjab.