Dr Gareth Porter, an independent investigative journalist and historian who specializes in U.S. national security policy in his latest piece on killing of Hakimullah Mehsud writes, “Three different Taliban commanders told Reuters Nov. 3 they had been preparing for the talks but after the killing of Mehsud, they now felt betrayed and vowed a wave of revenge attacks.” Although he is of the opinion that Obama’s meeting with Sharif evidently occurred before the CIA went to Obama with specific intelligence about Mehsud, and proposed to carry out a strike to kill him. The reason according to Dr Porter is that the CIA had an institutional grudge to settle with Mehsud after he had circulated a video with Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian suicide bomber who had talked the CIA into inviting him to its compound at Camp Chapman in Khost province, where he killed seven CIA officials and contractors on Dec. 30, 2009. It is a recorded fact that CIA had already carried out at least two drone strikes aimed at killing Mehsud in January 2010 and January 2012.
It is also a foregone conclusion that appointment of the new Taliban Chief; Maulana Fazlullah of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Swat (TTS) will trigger a round of revenge killings. An opinion endorsed by Pakistan Taliban who have declared that they would orchestrate a wave of revenge attacks against the government after naming hardline commander Mullah Fazlullah as their new leader.(Published “The Nation” November 09, 2013) The news further stated, “We will target security forces, government installations, political leaders and police,” Asmatullah Shaheen, head of the Shura, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. He said the Taliban’s main target included army and government installations in Punjab, the political stronghold of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to another recent news report PPP leader Raza Rabbani has presented an 11 point plan to the PML-N government aimed to guide it out of the sticky patch the nation finds itself in, with relation to talks with the Taliban. He hit the nail on the head when he said that the first step government must take through its contacts if any, is to find out whether or not Taliban are ready for dialogue. Now Dr Porter in his article does state that three different Taliban commanders had confirmed to Reuters of their interest in holding peace talks with the Pakistan government – however, what is not known is their standing within the organization and whether or not they had the influence to sway the decision in favor of genuine talks. One factor being too many factions and splinter groups under the Taliban umbrella, some of which may or may not agree in favor of peace talks in the final analysis.
Hakimullah Mehsud himself was hardly a Dove of Peace. “Under his leadership, the Taliban targeted Pakistani soldiers and civilians, slaughtered Shia Muslims and almost derailed this year’s general election by selectively targeting liberal parties.” (The Guardian Monday 4 November 2013) The question is: did peace talks have a better chance with Hakimullah Mehsud? Has the peace talks derailed with him gone? The Taliban had declared that it would not negotiate with the government unless two preconditions were met; first army troops should pull out from the entire tribal area. Second, their prisoners should be released. To the best of the common man’s knowledge there has been no practical progress from point. Ideally, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan should have been made to come around to the view that these suggested points should form agenda for peace talks and not a pre-condition to it, to say the least. This on the face of it has not happened although Reuters state that Mehsud and his allies had been tentatively open to the concept of ceasefire talks with the government, but Fazlullah’s emergence as the new chief changes that picture. (Nov 7, 2013) The tentative desire was never reflected on ground in practical terms. Continuing terrorist attacks by TTP cannot be ignored, leading to martyrdom of many security forces members and civilians that went on unabated. What was also not reflected on ground was any practical step taken by the government to achieve the objective of peace talks- barring making media statements. If some claim that the drone that killed Mehsud also killed any chances of peace talks with it- the question they must then address is; the government has been in place since May 2013- nearly nine months, yet no progress has been made to address the existentialist issue. If Mehsud’s living may have changed the face of possible talks with time, why has then the government not formed a cogent policy on drones and discussed this proposal with Obama on the recent tour of PM Nawaz to USA assuming this was a thorn in the side of the talks? Pleas alone aimed at not to use drones as they increase waves of terrorism cannot replace a well thought out policy as an alternative.
The new TTP leader Maulvi Fazlullah nick named the “Mullah Radio” was born Fazal Hayat to Biladar Khan, a Pukhtun of Babukarkhel clan of the Yusufzai tribe of the Swat District where much later, he worked as an operator of a manual chairlift on the River Swat. He then joined the Jamia Mazahir-ul-Uloom — a religious seminary run by Maulana Sufi Mohammad. He married the daughter of Maulana Sufi. He has fought side by side the Taliban in Afghanistan with his father-in-law. Both were arrested by the Pakistani security forces. Maulana Sufi for 10 years whereas Maulvi Fazlullah got off lightly after 17 months and emerged as a popular Wahabi militant leader because of his activities in Swat. He reorganized the TNSM and raising a private army that he named as the “Shaheen Commando Force.” In the aftermath of the 2007 siege of Lal Masjid, Fazlullah’s forces and Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) formed an alliance. Fazlullah and his army henceforth reportedly received orders from Mehsud. (Al Jazeera Feb 13, 2009) Maulana Fazlullah started an illegal local FM channel in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s Swat Valley in 2006. He also had set up Sharia Courts in Swat and is known to be a hard core Islamist.
Reports by a source point towards indications that there are deepening fissures within the ranks of Taliban that a sharp adversary can take advantage of. But then, a fumbling adversary may fail to do so. This brings me to the next question that needs some serious thinking by our lawmakers. With Taliban not willing to come to the table for talks, what is the Plan B? If there is a Plan B. Here we must take in consideration an important distinction. The difference between strategy and tactic; overlooked and often confused by many. The word strategy emerges from a Greek word that roughly translates into “general”. It may be defined as the plan to meet a goal or result and may include using various tactics. Whereas tactics may refer to a plan or procedure for promoting a desired end or result. The strategy answers the “what” part of the equation whereas tactics, on the other hand, are supposed to tell us “how we are supposed to reach the objectives.”A strategy may include two or more tactics to reach the goal. Therefore talking with Taliban aimed at achieving peace is one tactic out of many options. It is not the strategy itself. In military usage too there is a clear-cut distinction between strategy and tactics. Strategy is the utilization, during both peace and war, of all of a nation’s forces, through large-scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security or victory. Tactics is the military science that deals with securing objectives set by strategy, especially the technique of deploying and directing troops, ships, and aircraft in effective maneuvers against an enemy. The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines the tactical level as:
“…The level of war at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces. Activities at this level focus on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements in relation to each other and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives.”
Ihsanullah Ihsan, in an interview with Newsweek published after the murder of Hakimullah Mehsud categorically states that possibility of peace talks is zero; the chances are, in fact, below zero. He said “We will target security organizations and everyone who is part of this system wherever they are. If you are a part of this system [against the Taliban], then you, too, are our target.”
The strategy of War on Terror needs enduring structures, partnerships and a mix of tactics in order to defeat the threat of terrorism. The strategy is not and cannot be interchanged with one single ‘tactic’ that is talking to Taliban. Should that not come to a pass; the entire government comes to a grinding halt for want of another ‘tactic’. Not to be confused with strategy please! On principle I do not oppose peace talks unless they are on held from a position of respect and strength. Merely giving lip service to the possibility of the talks without anything positive emerging on ground from either side cannot be supported indefinitely.
I am reminded here of Sun Tzu; The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan.