By Irshad Salim
Two key individuals of Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif government, while their leaders (Sharifs) have chosen to remain silent when abroad, appear to be handling the latest drone strike and the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud in a well-orchestrated and scripted manner – with the intent it appears to actually push the dialogue process with the Pakistani Taliban forward – and beyond headlines and national spotlight.
Implicit in the spins by both Sharif’s spin doctors is one message: dialogue must go on. However predictability and control of the expected talks and making the ‘good Taliban’ which include the Punjabi Taliban appears to be the strategy.
The stakeholders who met in London on the sidelines of the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) last week agreed on ‘joint efforts’ for ‘regional peace’. There, the Sharif initiative for talks with the Pakistani Taliban – a Pakistani problem until recently according to Karzai, morphed into a ‘regional peace’ issue, as is being harped on now by the two gentlemen–Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Information and Broadcasting Minister Pervaiz Rasheed in concert.
Moderated by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Sharif and Karzai reportedly shook hands to make peace talks (with both Taliban) mutually inclusive derivatives and critical to regional peace in which obviously hard core, battle-hardened ‘bad guys’ among both the Taliban could not be included, as they carried wild cards and heavy agendas unacceptable to all the stakeholders.
While Chaudhry Nisar Saturday called the drone strike that killed Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Friday an attack on regional peace irrelevant, Pervaiz Rashid attempted to take the matter beyond the issue of drone strike and killing of Hakimullah by stating his government would not let the drone strikes kill the dialogue process.
Below in underlined Italics represent the mind-set which could not be handled in the dialogue process.
On October 30, according to a Britain-based news website, Hakimullah said that the only way to successful peace talks was by getting out of the US pressure.
He also claimed that the drone attacks…were carried out with the approval of the Pakistani government, adding that he would continue to work for the cause of Khilafat-e-Rashida in Pakistan.
A day later, Prime Minister Sharif announced that a process to initiate peace talks had already begun. He however chose not to respond to Hakimullah. In fact he said talks “would be held within the framework of Pakistan constitution” — a document that obviously does not allow Khilafat-e-Rashida in Pakistan . Coincidentally, a day later Hakimullah is taken out by a US drone strike.
Why would the Americans take him out now? They have been telling us that TTP is purely a Pakistani problem and NOT a US problem. Also, in the past Pakistan has requested the US to take out some of these leaders but their requests were not obliged except in the case of Nek Mohammad who was eliminated on Pakistan’s request, it has emerged.
Pakistani officials have also privately said that the Americans were protecting and even arming the TTP militants. So, it has becomes highly significant now as to why the Americans would eliminate Hakimullah and remain silent about it — and why now? Did we ask them to do it? Or is it what we are being led to believe by the media this has been done only because the Americans and the Afghans want to “sabotage the peace process”.
Pakistan wants the drone attacks to continue because they are hitting the Pakistani Taliban hard — at least, the irreconcilable groups. The recent incident of the US ‘kidnapping’ a noted Taliban leader suggests that the Pakistani intelligence is coordinating with the Americans to finish off the Taliban so that the deck is cleared for AfPak talks. (Christian Science Monitor)
It is also conceivable that there is a new US-Pakistan intelligence tie-up to ensure the drone attacks provide underpinning to the peace talks. In fact, Sharif is on record that the peace process with the Afghan Taliban has begun. Evidently, he acted swiftly on the understanding reached with Obama a week ago.
Also, the Obama administration believes that the Sharif government is in a position to deliver what the US and the international community hopes to achieve.
“What distinguishes the current Pakistani Government from the previous one is this one has a much stronger mandate. It has a majority, an absolute majority in the parliament. It had a strong electoral result. It is therefore potentially a government that’s more capable of delivering on its promises, a government that’s more capable of addressing Pakistan’s pressing economic and security needs, and therefore is potentially a more powerful partner”, Ambassador Dobbin told the foreign press at the United Nations last month.
It is therefore significant to note that over a period of six months (May through October when the Sharif government came to power) three key but hawk-eyed Pakistani Taliban leaders who carried political aspirations in the ‘Emirates of Waziristan’, have become casualties of the war.
Hakimullah was killed on October 31; Latif Mehsud was killed in September 2013 and Waliur Rehman was in May 2013. While Wali was second in command to Hakimullah, Latif was third in command.
In short, with the top leadership of the Pakistani Taliban wiped out, its middle management has automatically been pushed in the forefront by design — for talks — to the delight of the stakeholders. Pakistan is the major stakeholder not only in talks with the Pakistani Taliban but also with those who will remain in its backyard.
Khan Said ‘Sajna’ will reportedly lead the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as announced by its (shoura) council on Saturday.
Sajna has no basic education, conventional or religious, except that he is battle-hardened and has experience of fighting in Afghanistan, it has emerged. Therefore, one can expect Pakistani Taliban to lean towards the Afghan Taliban for support and guidance in the talks ahead.
Mullah Baradar and Mullah Umar (both from Afghan Taliban) therefore become very relevant to ‘regional peace’ – not just Afghan peace.
Nisar’s statement to both local and foreign media on Saturday that the identity of those killed in the drone strike was irrelevant is significant.
At the same time, Sharif’s soft-spoken Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed attempted to take the matter beyond the issue of drone strike and killing of Hakimullah by stating his government would not let the drone strikes kill the dialogue process. This statement is also significant.
So Nisar’s move to take Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, PTI chief Imran Khan, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hasan and some other leaders into confidence is not to prepare them for a U-turn on relations with the US, but to tell all that the party will go on.
- Irshad Salim is Editor and Publisher of New York-based DesPardes.com and PKonweb.com and a political and cultural analyst. Presently, he is stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on a management consultancy assignment.