The challenge of the Taliban has become quite formidable for the
Pakistani state. In several tribal agencies, especially North and
and Mohamand, the security forces are ineffective and the Taliban have
a free hand to impose their hegemony. In the Khyber Agency, three
groups are competing with each other for establishing their domain and
the government is unable to control them. The Kuram Agency suffers
from Shia-Sunni sectarian clashes.
As the government of
Pakistan assigns importance to dialogue with these militant groups and
tribesmen, it is working on a strategy to undertake comprehensive
dialogue with the tribal people. However, there are two major
First, the government of
engaged in dialogue with the militant groups during 2004 and 2006 and
signed three agreements but none succeeded in establishing peace.
Another series of negotiations were launched after the present
government came to power in March this year. This effort also did not
succeed fully to restore peace in the tribal areas and Swat.
Second, the militant groups are not
willing to give up their arms and do not respect the agreement and the
government lacks authority to enforce the agreement. They often use
the peace period to strengthen their position. Further, as there are
several groups competing for influence and control of the area,
agreement with one group does not necessarily guarantee that others
would not take on the security forces.
The most serious problem is how to
translate high flying rhetoric about counter terrorism into
implementable concrete policy measures.
Government machinery is in total
disarray in most tribal areas and the security forces often shy away
from asserting their authority. The losses suffered by the
paramilitary troops and the army have not been fully explained by the
relevant authorities, giving an opportunity to pro-Taliban elements in
Pakistan to argue that most troops lacked motivation to fight the
The government' options are
constrained by the widely shared Islamic discourse on militancy at the
popular level. This dates back to the days of General Pervez
Musharraf's military government which maintained cooperative
interaction with Islamists in order to undercut the support of his
political adversaries. This made societal space available to
Islamists and militant groups who cultivated strong links in the
government and the security apparatus.
The Islamic worldview is strongly
anti-American that describes the Taliban as the first line of defence
Pakistan. Those who share this perspective are not able to
comprehend the current Taliban threat to
To them, American policies constitute a greater threat to Pakistan and
had Pakistan not joined hands with the
there would have been no problem with the Taliban.
Two of the coalition partners, i.e.
the PMLN and the JUIF, also oppose a tough line towards the Taliban.
The PMLN pursues soft line towards the Taliban in order to secure
political dividends by sympathizing with the Islamist discourse. The
JUIF has ideological affinity with the Taliban and is known for
supporting them in the past, although the militant groups have now
challenged the JUIF's political standing parts of NWFP.
. The major Taliban groups appear
more confident now than ever as they are entrenched in many tribal
areas and the Pakistani civilian administration and security
authorities are under strong pressure. Some Taliban groups have become
so confident that they outline conditions under which they can allow
the Pakistani authorities to function in their areas.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan has
demanded the removal of the NWFP government. Further, they have
expanded their domain in the settled areas.
Given these ground realities it is
difficult to think of a shared framework for negotiations. Will the
Taliban be treated at par with the Pakistani state and the two
authorities will determine ways and means to deal with each other?
Will the government seek their terms and conditions for allowing the
NWFP government to function?
What about their activities in the
settled areas of NWFP? They have expanded their domain to several
adjoining districts and openly flout the state authority and assert
their power. The MMA government in NWFP (2002-2007) quietly yielded
space to them. Now, it will be an uphill task for the federal as well
as the ANP provincial government to reverse this process.
The Taliban appear to have come to
the conclusion that their ideological struggle in
Afghanistan cannot be pursued effectively without neutralizing or
excluding Pakistani authorities from the tribal areas and NWFP. If
this is the Taliban goal, how can an ideological movement be convinced
of respecting a sovereign state, especially when it is an obstacle to
the realization of their ideological global agenda?
In principle, negotiation and
dialogue should be preferred over coercion for settling problems.
However, this applies to both sides. The Taliban cannot be allowed to
use coercion to establish their hegemony. As long as the Pakistani
state does not demonstrate the determination and capability to push
back the Taliban, the latter would not accommodate the Pakistani
state accept their terms?