Why talks with the Pakistan Taliban may never succeed

Nek Mohammad and military at Shakai talks Previous peace deals between the government and militants have ended in failure

Preliminary talks between Taliban and Pakistani government representatives had not even begun, when the government delegation excused itself. Many believe the talks process is unlikely to lead to any lasting peace or even serious negotiations. The BBC explores why.

The negotiating teams have no real power

There are no members of the government or the Taliban on either negotiating team, just their representatives - and this makes some analysts sceptical.

The government team is made up of veteran journalists Rahimullah Yusufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service, Mohammad Amir.

The Taliban team comprises the chief of an influential madrassa Maulana Sami ul-Haq, the chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz and religious party Jamaat-e-Islami leader Prof Ibrahim Khan.

Taliban negotiators, from left, Prof Ibrahim Khan, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, and Maulana Abdul Aziz The Taliban negotiators are, from left: Prof Ibrahim Khan, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, and Maulana Abdul Aziz

These teams had been tasked with simply charting a "roadmap" for talks but many believe the teams do not have the full trust of their respective backers - the government and the Taliban.

These are just talks about talks

Who are the Pakistani Taliban?

  • With its roots in the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban movement came to the fore in 2007 unleashing a wave of violence
  • Its leaders have traditionally been based in Pakistan's tribal areas but it is really a loose affiliation of militant groups, some based in areas like Punjab and even Karachi
  • The various Taliban groups have different attitudes to talks with the government. Some analysts say this has led to divisions in the movement
  • Collectively they are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis and have also co-ordinated assaults on numerous security targets
  • Two former TTP leaders, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, as well as many senior commanders have been killed in US drone strikes
  • It is unclear if current leader Maulana Fazlullah, who comes from outside the tribal belt, is even in Pakistan, but he has a reputation for ruthlessness

It's very unclear what they are actually going to talk about: a "roadmap" for talks may simply be a timetable for setting out desirable goals such as a ceasefire.

Media outlets have deployed a series of tortuous phrases to try to summarise what is at stake in these meetings.

But the first task is for the two teams to learn to trust each other. The government excusing itself from talks on the very first day does not bode well.

That may reflect the fact that the Taliban committee was drawn up at the last minute. Indeed a prominent Islamic leader withdrew from the team the day before talks were to start.

Others point out that simply meeting would be an achievement in itself.

The two sides might just be buying time

Some analysts believe the government is simply buying time and that they are actually waiting for July 2014 when US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, creating a scenario whereby Pakistani militants could spill over the border to fight in Afghanistan.

The government has always denied seeking to influence the balance of power and militancy in Afghanistan.

An Afghan policeman stands guard near burning NATO supply trucks following an attack by militants on a U.S. base in the Torkham area near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Jalalabad province east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013 Militants are thought to move between the porous border dividingAfghanistan and Pakistan

But it has nevertheless been under intense pressure after a spate of bloody Taliban attacks within Pakistan, particularly after Nawaz Sharif last year campaigned on a platform of talking to the militants.

Some say this feels like an attempt to soothe public opinion in the wake of that bloodshed.

For the Taliban side, sources in the tribal areas say that these talks are also a way of buying time and postponing any possible military intervention in their region.

After the death of former leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike last autumn, the Taliban feel under pressure to consolidate support in the Mohmand tribal agency - an area he had influence over. With his death it risks slipping out of the Taliban sphere.

The Taliban movement is divided on talks

Talks would not have got this far without the Taliban shura (organising committee) agreeing to the process. But that masks profound divisions within the movement.

Even before the death of Hakimullah Mehsud there was unease within the ranks of this loose collective of militants about the possibility of talks.

Hakimullah Mehsud, 8 Oct 2013 Even before the death of former leader Hakimullah Mehsud, there was unease about talks

The Mehsud clan, which has traditionally been at the helm of the Pakistani Taliban, has two factions. Hakimullah Mehsud, despite protestations that he was ready to receive a government delegation, is widely believed to have been against talks and simply wanted to continue fighting.

The other group - represented by Sajna Mehsud - is thought to be open to talks.

The Pakistani Taliban's new leader Mullah Fazlullah is currently believed to be in Afghanistan and he has adhered to what the Taliban shura agreed to, but many believe he is personally opposed to talks.

Then there are the other groups linked to the Taliban who also feel they have a stake in the matter. The militants in the Mohmand tribal area - led by Omar Khalid Khorasani who is currently in Afghanistan - are also resolutely against the talks.

However, the Taliban based in Punjab province are all for talking to the government.

So the group representing the Taliban in Islamabad could be forgiven for not knowing which bit of the Taliban they speak for.

They have set impossible conditions
Pakistani Muslim Shiites chant slogans and burn tires, during a protest in Quetta, Pakistan, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. A recent spate of Taliban attacks has angered Pakistanis

Even if this preliminary team manages to set a timetable for preliminary talks, many believe little can be achieved because of incompatible goals.

The government's first condition will be a ceasefire. However, with such a divided Taliban it is not clear who would agree to this in such a disparate movement.

Taliban negotiators have previously demanded the release of Taliban detainees. It is likely they will also demand the withdrawal of the Pakistani army and paramilitaries from the tribal areas, including the Swat valley.

Both of these will be difficult for the government to accept.

But far more difficult - indeed impossible - is the Taliban demand to impose Sharia (Islamic law) throughout Pakistan.

History is not very encouraging

Previous peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban have all failed. There have been three major sets of peace talks over the last decade.

SHakai Militant leaders reneged on agreements made in the Shakai peace accord

In 2004 militant leader Nek Mohammed reached the Shakai agreement. It came after an ineffective military operation in Waziristan. Almost immediately after the agreement was signed, he reneged on his commitments.

The Sarorogha peace deal in 2005 with Nek Mohammed's successor Baitullah Mehsud was aimed at reducing conflict between the army and the Taliban. In fact confrontations increased in the following months.

The 2008 Swat agreement between the provincial government and militants was aimed at ending violence in the region. Within days violence increased and the Taliban effectively took control of the Swat valley before they were finally driven out in a military operation the following year.

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