Peace Talks Unlikely To Bear Fruit

BMI View: Peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) began on February 6. While the talks are reported to have been cordial and positive, we believe that an ultimate peace agreement is unlikely to be forthcoming given the lack of common ground between the two sides.

Peace talks between Pakistan's government and local Taliban insurgents began in earnest on February 6, after they failed to get underway as scheduled on February 5 amid accusations from both sides that the other was uninterested in a serious dialogue. After three hours of negotiations, the talks were deemed a success, with the chief negotiator for the government side, Irfan Siddiqui, stating that a 'journey for peace' had started. He also listed five basic conditions that had been set out by the government.

  • All talks be held within the framework of the constitution

  • The scope of the talks should remain confined to areas affected by violence, not the whole country

  • All hostilities should cease during talks

  • The Taliban should clarify the role of a separate nine-member committee that they have established

  • The talks should not be protracted

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is under pressure to end the persistent violence, and had dubbed the meeting as 'last chance' talks with the militant group, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who have been waging an insurgency inside Pakistan since 2007. The meeting had been due to take place a day prior, but was cancelled as the government's committee failed to show up over concerns that Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party, had turned down an invitation to represent the militant group. While concerns over the legitimacy of respective bargaining committees were put to one side, there is a long way to go before some common ground is reached between the two parties. Indeed, a peace agreement is still highly unlikely for a number of reasons:

Major Obstacles Stand In The Way

Firstly, the Pakistani Taliban wants to see Sharia (Islamic law) imposed throughout Pakistan. One of the TTP's negotiating team, Maulana Abdul Aziz, stated prior to the meeting that there was no chance of peace unless the government agreed to the imposition of Islamic Sharia law throughout Pakistan. This is unlikely to prove popular among Pakistan's secular population. The government has insisted that Pakistan's constitution must remain paramount.

Secondly, the Pakistani Taliban wants the US out of the region. Although the US plans to withdraw the vast majority of its troops out of neighbouring Afghanistan in 2014, and has agreed to curtail its drone strikes while the talks are in process, it is unlikely that Washington will wind down its attacks completely, given the perceived success they have had in eliminating key Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership.

Thirdly, the TTP is a loose coalition of smaller militant groups, some of which are against negotiation at any level. As such, the violence is unlikely to stop even if an official ceasefire is put in place. Highlighting the complex nature of the peace talks, a recent suicide bomb killed eight people in a sectarian attack against minority Shiite Muslims in the northwestern city of Peshawar, just hours after the abortive start to the talks. While the main TTP spokesman denied they were behind the blast, a commander for the group in Peshawar told news reporters that his men were responsible.

Military Offensive Still On The Cards

With these factors in mind, peace talks are unlikely to bear fruit. In fact, some have argued that the peace talks are doomed to failure and are merely an attempt by Sharif to boost his public support and show to his electorate that he is not completely beholden to the US, which has been pushing for a renewed Pakistani army offensive in the tribal areas, to coincide with the NATO drawdown and April presidential elections across the border in Afghanistan. Following a spate of attacks against the Pakistan military, Sharif may soon be forced to abandon his peace strategy in favour of a military operation targeting Taliban strongholds in North and South Waziristan. January saw more than 100 people killed, many of them soldiers, in Taliban attacks on military and civilian targets across Pakistan.

Risk To Outlook

One risk to our view is that the Pakistani government may be forced to give up ground to the militants, which would see pockets of the country head further along the path to hardline Islamist rule in line with the extremists' ideologies. Indeed, the peace talks have been viewed by some as a sign of weakness on the part of the government, which is under pressure to curb the violent attacks.

Pressure Remains To The Downside
Asia - Short-Term Political Risk Ratings
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Related sectors of this article: Political Risk, Defence
Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan

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