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A Window of Opportunity

The TTP has been insisting till very recently that they represented all the groups committing terror in Pakistan. Only when the terrorist acts continued unabated after the negotiations started that the TTP (and their vocal sympathizers) changed tack and started distancing themselves from the sporadic violence. Even then only proforma regret was expressed. It took over a month for Maulana Samiul Haq to deny ever hearing of “Ahrar ul Hind”. There is certainly an indirect link and even worse, tacit encouragement.

The TTP is quite comfortable with its proxies keeping the pressure on the people of Pakistan, the continuing terror makes for effective psychological warfare. The ceasefire presently is a farce, to be effective the TTP must themselves either target the recalcitrants bent on sabotaging the peace process or give “actionable” information so that they can be dealt with. The million dollar question, would the TTP join the political process consequent to a successful accord?

Money being pumped into the TTP is mostly diverted from charity originating from donors in muslim countries. For the criminally-minded, religious terrorism thus becomes a convenient tool to facilitate the receiving of such funds. With the militants groups not wanting their revenue source to dry up, there is no real will on their part to curb their terrorist activities. Drug money, protection racket, kidnapping, robbing of banks, etc are also sources of funding, evidence of the money trail also leads to arms, ammunition, etc supplied by foreign intelligence agencies, RAW, NDS, etc. The 40000 military and civilian dead and almost 100000 Pakistanis injured by terrorist action, in many cases bread-earners, need to be compensated by TTP’s very rich coffers.

The Indians use Baloch militants as tools of a “proxy war” against Pakistan, combined with the TTP-Karzai connection it is lethal. Accompanied by agents of the Afghan Intelligence National Directorate of Security (NDS), late TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud’s No 2 Latifullah Mehsud was captured by US Special Forces in Logar Province in Eastern Afghanistan driving along a road to Kabul to meet Hamid Karzai, the NDS directly reports to the Afghan President. His arrest was vociferously protested by Karzai. Incidentally this was not Latifullah Mehsud’s first visit to Kabul. Providing money and weapons for the TTP, the NDS made no attempt to hide its venom rendering tit-for-tat for Pakistan’s perceived support for the Afghan Taliban. The TTP Chief was assassinated soon after his former driver was taken into custody and gave away Hakeemullah’s whereabouts. As the Karzai Govt’s honoured guest in Kunar Province since his ouster from Swat by Pakistani forces, take one guess as to who sponsored Maulana Fazlullah’s elevation as the TTP Chief?

What is even more mystifying is the Mullah Umar-led Afghan Taliban tolerating TTP cozying upto Hamid Karzai? Mullah Umar’s lot tacitly supports the TTP (the source of a large part of their recruits) even while counseling them to go easy on Pakistan, at least till the end of the year when most (or maybe all) Coalition forces will depart. How come they are comfortable with TTP being active collaborators of the Hamid Karzai regime? The primary condition for any negotiations must be that the TTP should publicly immediately sever all connections with Afghan Intelligence (and by default with India’s RAW). We certainly must not release any TTP prisoners or accede to their “request” to give them space by relocating some Army units in FATA.

Post 2014 tens of billions of US$ have been pledged as aid to shore up “democratic” Afghanistan, US$4 billion annually in military grants alone. This is even though the US has only belatedly discovered the real Hamid Karzai, an ungrateful hypocrite. Such ingratitude is not surprising, it is the time-honoured Afghan way. A predator nation, the Afghans are quite shameless about their brazen ploy that somehow the world owes them that “subsidy” as their rightful due. Hosting 3 million Afghan refugees as well as being both a source and conduit for most of their food supply and other requirements, Pakistan notwithstanding remains the target of almost all their hatred. Our children die malnourished in places like Thar while four million tons of atta (wheat flour) goes to Afghanistan. The average price of Roti (bread) for every Pakistani climbs by Rs. 2-3 more per roti because of this “export”. The venom against Pakistan is mostly centred among the Afghan elite, the Pashtun masses outside Kabul have a different mindset. Why does the Govt of Pakistan (GOP) not expose this Afghan duplicity and publicly denounce their support for terrorism in Pakistan?

An honourable person Rustam Shah Mohmand has every right to have his own views but those speaking the TTP language must not be on our negotiating team. Replace him with someone who, like the others, truly represents the Federation. More importantly, the govt’s negotiating team must engage with TTP’s representatives directly and not through
the intermediaries.

The initiative to bring the TTP rank and file back into the mainstream of Pakistani society is a positive objective. One saw it personally at close hand in the early 90s when my 34th PMA coursemate and close friend, Maj Gen Ananda Weerasekera, who later retired as Adjutant General Sri Lanka Army, was appointed Commissioner General Rehabilitation for the 7000 plus Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) guerillas who had surrendered after the 1987-89 uprising and were given “remedial training” to absorb them back into society. The Pakistan Army has done something very similar successfully in Swat.

Unless the TTP unequivocally publicly supports the sovereignty of Pakistan and the Constitution that governs the rule of law, the present process is only a negotiating ploy for achieving their immediate and desperate objective, a ceasefire in place till the end of April. The Afghan Taliban have counselled then to keep it in place till most (or all) Coalition troops leave by end 2014. Spring and summer allows militants access to the high mountains, they can easily thereafter revoke their commitment on any pretext. Those who say that that is not likely are either complicit with them or are delusional. Just study the many peace accords signed by the British with the tribals in FATA starting from the 19th century (and the ones since 2003) not one survived more than a few years. Historically the tribals only use peace accords as a ploy to gain time.

Pointing to his wrist a captured warlord once said something very revealing to Gen Eikenberry, formerly ISAF Commander in Afghanistan (and later US Ambassador), “you have the watch, we have the time”. We certainly should talk but the present ceasefire is unacceptable, It allows TTP opportunity to create further mayhem. The Afghan Taliban want to last out the Coalition till December this year, all the more important we secure our borders in North Waziristan immediately and deny them a link-up. The only language they TTP really understand is dictated through the barrel of a gun, the PM must not let slip our window of opportunity to destroy terrorist bases before the snow starts melting and they are free to leave the valleys and operate at will from mountain hideouts.

Whoever will command the window of opportunity will win the war!

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