Pakistani opposition parties and their political allies are increasing pressure on the coalition government to consider a recent offer of peace talks from the Pakistani Taliban. Supporters hope the effort may pave the way for ensuring peace during upcoming national elections. However, analysts are skeptical about whether it is worth talking peace at a time when opinion across Pakistan remains deeply divided on how to counter militancy.
Ever since the Pakistani Taliban released a video, earlier this month, offering a set of conditions for peace talks, the initiative has been seized by opposition parties as well as former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as an idea the government should pursue.
Government officials have yet to formally accept or reject the offer of peace talks by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Presidential spokesman Senator Farhattullah Babar says the government has engaged in talks with militants, in the past, to try to end the violence.
“We are not averse to [the] dialogue," he stated. "But if the dialogue does not succeed and if those who are opposed to the ideology of Pakistan, those who are opposed to the constitution and the parliament of Pakistan and those who insist on militancy, then of course the law enforcing agencies will come into action.”
Pakistani security forces have been battling domestic Taliban militants for nearly a decade. But the prolonged military campaign has not been able to uproot insurgent bases from tribal districts along the Afghan border.
In recent years, Pakistani authorities have sought to end the fighting in some areas, through peace agreements with various Taliban factions. But the deals drew international criticism for eroding rights in Taliban-held areas and did not bring lasting peace.
Despite those past failures, some major Islamic political parties in Pakistan that have long opposed the use of military force against the militants, remain open supporters of peace talks.
However, Pakistani media have become more critical. Recent newspaper editorials have warned political parties against accommodating the militants. Instead, they have urged them to forge unity to defeat the extremist forces that are using violence to impose their ideology on Pakistanis.
Speaking to VOA by telephone from an undisclosed location Sunday night, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsan said his group stood by its offer and is still awaiting a response from the Pakistani government.
The spokesman justified recent attacks on security forces, despite offering peace talks to the government, saying their “fight will continue and any ceasefire will be entirely linked to progress in proposed peace talks.”
Mushahid Hussain is the chairman of Senate Defense Committee and a member of a key coalition party. He says that the offer of peace talks by the Taliban comes at a time when political parties are gearing up for the election and the issue will probably be taken up in a substantive manner after the polls, when a new government is in place.
“So, given that context, I think it may not be easy for the present government to initiate that process. And, I think this might even become an election issue. And, I think the important element is to have a consensus, broadly speaking, among the political forces in parliament and political forces outside parliament for such a dialogue,” said Hussain.
Pakistani militants have long argued they are fighting security forces to punish Islamabad for joining hands with Washington in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Some Islamic parties and conservative groups in the country insist that the militants will end violence and blend in with mainstream Pakistani society once foreign forces leave Afghanistan.
Asad Munir, a former brigadier of the Pakistani spy agency, ISI, says that engaging the TTP in peace talks is unlikely to resolve the issue of terrorism. But he says authorities should still consider their offer because it could help reveal the Taliban’s true intentions.
“It is going to help in developing a consensus in the country. People may come to know the real intention of Taliban that what do they want. I am convinced I have no doubts that they want power. They want to rule [the country]," said Munir. "They have nothing to do with the jihad, [with] the American forces in Afghanistan. They have their own agenda. So, let they people know that what do they really want?”
Munir says the Taliban has never hidden its agenda and condemns Pakistan’s present governance system as un-Islamic and wants to change it through jihad or the holy war.