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Mitglieder von Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)
Image: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images

Hide and seek

Shamil Shams
April 17, 2014

Not many people in Pakistan expect much from the peace talks between the government and the Taliban, but after months of futile negotiations, they are getting increasingly frustrated.


The Pakistani Taliban have refused to extend a ceasefire with the government, which was introduced to facilitate the ongoing peace negotiations. The one-month-long truce, which began on March 1, expired Thursday, April 10. The Islamists, however, insist they are not backing out from talks.

The Islamist extremists have been waging a violent insurgency in the South Asian country for around a decade. Their major demand is to impose the strict Islamic law in Pakistan and also in neighboring Afghanistan, where their Afghan counterparts had a government from 1996 to 2001.

According to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the ceasefire was not given a further extension because Islamabad had not stopped military operations against them in the troubled northwestern tribal areas.

There have been violations of the ceasefire from both sides. The Taliban continued to launch attacks on civilians and the government's security forces. The government responded by targeting militant hideouts in the restive North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan.

Pakistanische Männer lesen Zeitschriften - Taliban Führer Hakimullah Mehsud bei Drohnenangriff getötet
Pakistanis are losing patience, say analystsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But the two sides also agreed on certain issues such as the release of the Taliban prisoners from Pakistani jails. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's center-right government released 19 prisoners in South Waziristan earlier this month.

The United States has also temporarily halted its controversial drone strikes in Pakistan's semi-governed tribal belt to give Islamabad and the Islamist insurgents a chance to reach a lasting agreement. It carried out the last drone strike on December 26, 2013, in which three suspected militants were killed.

So why is it that the Islamabad-Taliban talks are not bearing any result? Not many people had high expectations from the "peace initiative" that Sharif's government took after coming into power in June 2013, but it seems now that people are getting very frustrated with the whole exercise.

Futile talks?

"Enough of the hide and seek between the government and the Taliban," Tahir Ahmed, a businessman in Pakistan's southern Karachi city, told DW. "I never had any illusion about the talks. But now I don't even understand what this dialogue is about. I think both parties have no idea what they are actually negotiating about. It is totally futile," the 45-year-old added.

Hameed Satti, a psychologist and social activist in the capital Islamabad, agrees that Pakistanis are getting frustrated with the aimlessness of talks with each passing day. The expert, however, is of the opinion that it clearly suits the government. "They want to push people to a place where whatever the government decides they will accept it as a solution," Satti told DW.

Gaining 'time and momentum'

Karachi-based journalist and documentary filmmaker, Sabin Agha, does not agree that the Taliban do not know what they want from the talks, or rather from dragging out the talks. "The Taliban are gaining time and momentum. They have secured the release of their 'non-combatant militants.' But I agree that the government, on the other hand, seems at loss, and does not have a clear-cut policy for peace negotiations," Agha told DW.

Siegfried O Wolf, a South Asia expert at Heidelberg University, also thinks that PM Sharif is undecided whether to fight or to appease the Taliban.

"Nevertheless, his (Sharif's) policy and certain actions are indicative of him having a sympathy for religious extremists," the analyst added.

Observers also say that both Islamists and Islamabad are waiting for matters to unfold in Afghanistan. International troops are scheduled to withdraw from the war-torn country by the end of this year, and it seems the future of Afghanistan will depend on whether there will be a stable government in Kabul or not.

"I think the drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan will strengthen the Taliban, and that is why they are dragging their feet on the peace deal," Agha commented.

The crackdown option

Liberal Pakistanis demand an outright military operation against the Taliban though. They don't want Islamabad to engage in any kind of talks with the TTP.

Supporters of Muttahdia Qaumi Movement (MQM) hold placards during a protest against the Taliban, in Karachi, Pakistan, 23 February 2014 (Photo: EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER)
In February, hundreds of thousands of people in Karachi participated in the country's biggest anti-Taliban rallyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"Should the people who are responsible for executing more than 40,000 Pakistanis, who bomb schools, who cut throats of people in the name of religion, and who want to send this country back to stone age be considered as stakeholders at all?," asked Agha. "The Taliban have been outlawed by the government, and they should be dealt with strictly."

But there are people who believe that going after the Taliban might not be so easy for the government.

"The Pakistani Taliban could have been routed out militarily or through police actions," Snehal Shingavi, a South Asia expert at the University of Texas, USA, told DW. "Everything indicates that they are not that sophisticated or large. But the Pakistani Army has used them as part of their strategic game in Afghanistan, and will probably continue to do so."

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