Thursday, August 29, 2013

Nawaz Sharif's Opportunity: Divide and Conquer Pakistani Taliban

Talks offer by Prime Minister Sharif has caused a significant rift in the  Pakistani Taliban leadership.  While Punjabi Taliban's leader Asmatullah Muawiya has welcomed the offer, leaders of the Pashtun Taliban have rejected it. The split has become more serious with the Pashtun Taliban's decision to remove Muawiya from his position as the leader of the Punjabi Taliban.

"The Taliban decision making body met under Commander Hakimullah Mehsud and decided that Asmatullah Muawiya has no relation with the TTP," Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told news agency AFP. In response, Muawiya  has told The Associated Press that the Taliban shura had no authority to remove him because the Punjabi Taliban is a separate group. He said his group has its own decision-making body to decide leadership and other matters.

This split among the Taliban leadership should be seen by the Nawaz Sharif government as an opportunity to further divide and eventually defeat the various terrorist groups operating under the banner of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

As a first step of this divide-and-conquer strategy, Pakistani government should proceed with identifying numerous TTP factions who are ready to negotiate and begin talking with each of them separately.  Instead of making concessions, the government should prolong these separate negotiations to plant seeds of distrust and discord among the Taliban factions and let them fight and weaken each other.

As a second step, the government should selectively use the Pakistani military to attack various TTP factions one at a time to  reduce the TTP movement from a potent force to a mere nuisance which  can be managed and ultimately made irrelevant.

During this process, the government should disregard any Taliban sympathizers among politicians, military and bureaucracy who will try to influence the process in favor of the Taliban in the name of Islam to pursue their own selfish agendas.

Such a strategy will require deep thinking, persistence, good negotiating skills and selective use of decisive military force to end the scourge of terrorism from Pakistan's national landscape. It will  also require broad public support.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Nawaz Sharif's Silence on Taliban Terror in Inaugural Speech

Taliban vs. Pakistan

Yet Another Peace Deal and Shia Blockade

Taliban Insurgency in Swat

Musharraf's Treason Trial

General Kayani's Speech on Terror War Ownership

Impact of Youth Vote and Taliban Violence on Elections 2013

Imran Khan's Social Media Campaign

Pakistan Elections 2013 Predictions 

Why is Democracy Failing in Pakistan?

Viewpoint From Overseas-Vimeo 

Viewpoint From Overseas-Youtube 


F said...

This is what ISI is doing, if someone's haven't realized yet... So the suggests in the article has been followed by ISI from last 3 years... And now fruits are also coming.... i.e. now more TTP are getting arrest, more missions of TTP are unfolding before they even happen.. Showing Progress....

KM said...

Haq "Such a strategy will require deep thinking, persistence, good negotiating skills and selective use of decisive military force to end the scourge of terrorism from Pakistan's national landscape. It will also require broad public support."

That is the thing, Nawaz lacks all these things.

Riaz Haq said...

F: "This is what ISI is doing, if someone's haven't realized yet... "

Haven't heard of ISI having peace talks with the TTP. In any event, it's the Nawaz Sharif government which needs to do it and do it as a strategy to divide and defeat the TTP.

Suhail said...

Don't forget the fact that PML-N was already in some sort of an understanding with TTP during the last government. This was evidenced by some statements of Shahbaz Sharif and the fact that a) Punjab was saved of TTP attacks and b) TTP did not obstruct the election campaigns of PML-N and PTI in the recent elections while by their own statements they threatened PPP, ANP and MQM to stay away. So PML-N already has some TTP factions to revert to for talks but the strategy of TTP will surely be not to negotiate as long as they're freely operating with no hindrance from the state of Pakistan. Thus divisions appearing can be for public consumption so that negotiations are stalled, rather than real ones. You should also ponder on the scenario that with PML-N and PTI/Jamaat governments in place, Pakistan may already be in taliban control.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a news report on TTP denying peace talks:

Miranshah, Pakistan: A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban on Saturday denied media reports that the government was holding peace talks with the insurgent group.
Pakistani private media and most Urdu and English language dailies on Saturday ran headlines reporting the start of peace talks with the Taliban while some said there had been initial contacts with the militants
Shahidullah Shahid, main spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said that no contacts had been made between the group and any government official.
“I categorically deny the holding of peace talks on any level between the Taliban and Pakistani government,” Shahid said from an undisclosed location.

“No contacts have even been made between us, nor have we received any offer to initiate peace talks” Shahid added.
Pakistan’s respected English language daily DAWN quoted Information Minister Pervez Rashid as saying the government was in secret talks with the TTP.
“Unofficial talks between the government side and Taliban are in progress,” Rashid told the paper.
Rashid said the government’s main objective was to restore peace and it would do everything possible to achieve that.
“We have to rid the country of the menace of terrorism for which all options would be utilised,” Rashid was quoted as saying.
BBC Urdu, quoting an unnamed senior government official and a Taliban commander, also reported the beginning of peace talks.
“It is complete propaganda, the government must make it public if it has any proof of any such talks,” Shahid said.
The reports of peace talks emerged almost two weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made an offer to the extremists in his first televised address to the nation since taking office after winning elections in May.
Previous peace deals have rapidly unravelled, and were criticised by the US and at home for allowing militants space to regroup before launching new waves of attacks.
The Taliban last Saturday removed a key commander for welcoming Sharif’s call for dialogue.
Ismatullah Muaweea, the head of the TTP in Punjab province, had said the prime minister had shown maturity.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an analysis of war with TTP by Ejaz Haider published in Express Tribune:

First, this war is not like an interstate war. While everyone knows that, or thinks he does, most do not understand the implications of that fact. This war has no front and no rear. It is being fought among the people. The enemy is elusive, flexible, ruthless and adept at countering and neutralising the state’s superior force.
Corollary: there are no defined boundaries of this war, and there is no line separating the zones of war and peace. Fighting it is more difficult because force has to be used, for the most part, deftly rather than overwhelmingly.
Second, the groups fighting the state act both as insurgents and terrorists. That requires using different techniques and operating in different environments. The two prongs complement each other. While the state has largely degraded these groups’ capacity in the badlands through military operations, it has been less successful in countering terrorism in urban centres. This point is important because when we talk about jaw-jawing with the militants, the argument generally is that the state has been unable to put them down. That is only partially true. But to degrade their capability more fully, the state will have to put them in a nutcracker, taking them on effectively in both the periphery and in the urban centres. It hasn’t done that so far — at least not effectively.
Third, even in the periphery, while force has been used to dominate physical space, the other two corners of the triangle, social-psychological and fiscal-economic, have not been addressed with the same vigour. The army is not trained to do that and the civil administration hasn’t really caught on to the changed ecosystem of the tribal areas..
Fourth, the strategy of dislocation, isolating the insurgent/terrorist from the context that strengthens him, has nearly failed. In a plethora of narratives, the realities have got lost even for educated people. This is further helped by imperfect information, growing Islamism begotten over four decades, arguing, beyond what is necessary, that the internal threat is simply a blowback of American actions and when the Americans are gone the Taliban will suddenly become law-abiding citizens. ....
Finally, war is communication. The Taliban are addressing the Pakistanis. The state has to realise that it, too, is supposed to do that. The Taliban narrative is clear, concise and precise. It exploits the fault lines within. The state’s narrative is confused and timid. The problem with the irresolute All-Party Conference is not that the politicos want to talk but that they have communicated weakness. This might come across as a no-brainer to anyone with a brain, but they don’t seem to get it.

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Riaz Haq said...

NY Times on Afghans seeking TTP alliance:

A bungled attempt by the Afghan government to cultivate a shadowy alliance with Islamist militants escalated into the latest flash point in the troubled relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, according to new accounts by officials from both countries.The disrupted plan involved Afghan intelligence trying to work with the Pakistan Taliban, allies of Al Qaeda, in order to find a trump card in a baroque regional power game that is likely to intensify after the American withdrawal next year, the officials said. And what started the hard feelings was that the Americans caught them red-handed.

Tipped off to the plan, United States Special Forces raided an Afghan convoy that was ushering a senior Pakistan Taliban militant, Latif Mehsud, to Kabul for secret talks last month, and now have Mr. Mehsud in custody.

Publicly, the Afghan government has described Mr. Mehsud as an insurgent peace emissary. But according to Afghan officials, the ultimate plan was to take revenge on the Pakistani military.

In the murk of intrigue and paranoia that dominates the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Pakistanis have long had the upper hand. A favorite complaint of Afghan officials is how Pakistani military intelligence has sheltered and nurtured the Taliban and supported their insurgency against the Afghan government.
Another Afghan official said the logic of the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances. The United States, in fact, has relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency here, the official tartly noted.

“Everyone has an angle,” the official said. “That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.”

Afghan officials said those people included American military officers and C.I.A. operatives. Frustrated by their limited ability to hit Taliban havens in Pakistan, some Americans suggested that the Afghans find a way to do it, they claimed.

So Afghanistan’s intelligence agency believed it had a green light from the United States when it was approached by Mr. Mehsud sometime in the past year.

After months of negotiations with Mr. Mehsud, the intelligence agency struck an initial deal, two Afghan officials said: Afghanistan would not harass Pakistan Taliban fighters sheltering in mountains along the border if the insurgents did not attack Afghan forces.

Still, the Afghans decided to keep their relationship with Mr. Mehsud a secret and did not tell American officials.

An American official briefed on Mr. Mehsud’s case said there was “absolutely no way” any American would encourage the Afghans to work with the Pakistan Taliban or do anything that could result in attacks on Pakistani forces or civilians, the official said.

“If they thought we’d approve,” the American official added, “why did they keep it a secret?”

Riaz Haq said...

Kathy Gannon of The Associated Press reported in September that militants from Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, were massing in the tribal areas to join the Taliban and train for an anticipated offensive into Afghanistan this year. In Punjab, mainstream religious parties and banned militant groups were openly recruiting hundreds of students for jihad, and groups of young men were being dispatched to Syria to wage jihad there. “They are the same jihadi groups; they are not 100 percent under control,” a former Pakistani legislator told me. “But still the military protects them.”...

The haul of handwritten notes, letters, computer files and other information collected from Bin Laden’s house during the raid suggested otherwise, however. It revealed regular correspondence between Bin Laden and a string of militant leaders who must have known he was living in Pakistan, including Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a pro-Kashmiri group that has also been active in Afghanistan, and Mullah Omar of the Taliban. Saeed and Omar are two of the ISI’s most important and loyal militant leaders. Both are protected by the agency. Both cooperate closely with it, restraining their followers from attacking the Pakistani state and coordinating with Pakistan’s greater strategic plans. Any correspondence the two men had with Bin Laden would probably have been known to their ISI handlers.

Bin Laden did not rely only on correspondence. He occasionally traveled to meet aides and fellow militants, one Pakistani security official told me. “Osama was moving around,” he said, adding that he heard so from jihadi sources. “You cannot run a movement without contact with people.” Bin Laden traveled in plain sight, his convoys always knowingly waved through any security checkpoints.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Wall Street Journal on infighting among TTP Taliban factions in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Fighting within the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban has stalled peace talks with the government as the militants' focus turns inward, militant commanders and officials said Friday.

A turf war between rival factions of the group, known formally as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, has claimed between 25 and 30 lives since Sunday in the country's tribal areas, say commanders of the militant group.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in September launched the talks, controversial among Pakistanis because the Pakistani Taliban has claimed the killing of thousands of civilians and security personnel, but they have yielded little progress after weeks. The initiative delayed the planned launch of a Pakistani army operation against the militants.

As the Taliban's cease-fire ended on Thursday, the internecine bloodshed has created a new hurdle in the talks process.

"Our interlocutors are badly split. Unless they can resolve this quickly, things aren't looking very bright," Rustam Shah Mohmand, one of the government representatives at the negotiations, told The Wall Street Journal. "The government is also dragging its feet."

"It appears that we're losing momentum. I fear that we're heading toward a dead end."

People with knowledge of the Pakistan army say the institution has concerns about the way the talks are dragging on.

Meanwhile, the U.S., which has targeted militants in the tribal area, has ceased drone strikes against the Pakistani Taliban since the negotiations policy was set, under an understanding between Islamabad and Washington, officials say.


Militants and officials said the Haqqani network, an Afghan insurgent group also based in Pakistan's tribal areas, is trying to patch up differences between the warring Taliban factions, which come from the Mehsud tribe.

The Haqqani group has repeatedly intervened in internal Taliban disputes, fearing that such fighting will impede its ability to use the tribal areas as a sanctuary, analysts said.

"The Taliban shura [leadership] will now find it more difficult to come to a unanimous view," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist who was formally part of the government negotiating team. "They will not give up on the option of talks at this stage. Both the Taliban and the government want to continue talks."

The infighting involves a faction led by Khan Said, known as Sajna, and a rival group led by a commander called Shehryar over leadership of the Taliban's powerful Mehsud wing. The conflict dates back to the enmity between two Mehsud commanders who were killed by U.S. drone strikes last year. Their deaths led to a militant outside the tribe, Mullah Fazlullah, taking control of the Taliban for the first time.
Among the dead in recent days are three prominent commanders, militants said. The fighting, which has taken place close to the Afghan border in both North and South Waziristan, has included gunbattles and the firing of rockets and grenades. Some analysts said the government would prefer to deal with a united Taliban but others said the discord should be welcomed.

"There's nothing better for Pakistan than these terrorists killing each other," said Mehmood Shah, an analyst based in Peshawar who was formerly a senior security official for the tribal areas.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Reuters' report on TTP infighting:

The head of the Pakistani Taliban is making a last-ditch bid to stamp his authority on the increasingly divided insurgency by ordering a top commander sacked, Taliban sources said Saturday.

Taliban head Maulana Fazlullah moved against Khan "Sajna" Said on Friday after weeks of bloody infighting in the powerful Mehsud tribe that supplies the bulk of the Pakistani Taliban fighters, they said. Scores of men have been killed.

The risk for Fazlullah is that Said might ignore him and battle on. Said is trying to wrest control of the Mehsud tribe - with its many weapons and lucrative smuggling routes and extortion business - from rival Shehryar Mehsud.

The factional fighting has complicated attempts by the Pakistani government to end the insurgency through peace talks it proposed in February. Some commanders are in favor of talks but others vowed to continue their insurgency.

"It's a test case for Maulana Fazlullah and his shura," a Taliban commander said, referring to the movement's leadership council. "It will determine their future."

"If Sajna is convinced and he stops fighting, it conveys a good message to rest of the Taliban factions," he said. "Otherwise it will be a setback for Fazlullah if Sajna refuses to obey his command."

Fazlullah has repeatedly appealed in vain to the two Mehsud rivals to stop fighting. An earlier peace deal brokered by the powerful Haqqani network of fighters fell through, undercutting the militants' ability to mount attacks against security forces.


Notorious for ordering the attempted killing of schoolgirl activist Malala Yousafzai, Fazlullah is the first non-Mehsud leader of the Pakistani Taliban and has struggled to impose his authority on the powerful tribe.

He faced many challengers to become chief of the Pakistani Taliban last year after the death of the previous head in a drone strike. He has been hiding in Afghanistan since then.

But the time has come to exert his authority, a senior member of the Taliban said.

"Senior members of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan had tired of appealing (to the two rivals) to stop their clashes," he said.

The Taliban sources said Fazlullah turned to an influential hardline commander, Khalid Omar Khorasani, to appoint a new commander in place of Said, who wants to join the peace talks.

Khorasani, who opposes the talks, ordered the decapitation of 23 hostages from a government paramilitary force shortly after Islamabad announced its peace initiative.

Taliban commanders said Khorasani had been chosen to appoint a successor not just because of his hardline reputation, but because of his ability to unite various factions.

"All militant leaders respect him for his sacrifices in organizing all the militant factions and that's why Fazlullah gave him this difficult task," a Taliban commander said.