Dec. 3, LAHORE, Pakistan (UPI Next)
The Nov. 1 killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud by a U.S. drone strike and ongoing drone strikes in Pakistan have put prospective peace talks between the government and the Taliban group at risk.
A Taliban spokesman said the fundamentalist Islamic group will not negotiate with the government until the drone strikes stop.
Pakistani political parties that once seemed united after the All Parties Conference held in September on bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table are now disgruntled. They blame each other and government policies that are seen as appeasing its Western allies, local politicians say.
Local leaders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province say Mehsud's killing and a Nov. 20 drone strike on a religious seminary in the province’s Hangu district have dashed hopes for peace talks with the Taliban.
Speaking to UPI Next Nov. 18 from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid rejected negotiations with the government outright.
"The situation has changed now. The government does not seem to have authority to stop these drone strikes, and no talks will be held until the Pakistani government stops drone strikes and meets our terms and conditions," he said.
Spelling out the group's conditions in a Nov. 23 fax to UPI Next, Shahid said there would be no negotiations with the government until Sharia, or Islamic law, is imposed in the country, drone strikes are halted, Taliban members being held prisoner are released and security forces are withdrawn from tribal areas.
Shahid said the Taliban will start focusing its attacks on security forces instead of its previous targets, such as mosques, schools and other public places.
"This time our target is not the general public, but police and security forces, which are targeting our people,” he said.
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the Taliban have rejected the government's offer to hold peace talks for an indefinite period of time.
"The post-Hakimullah situation is murky. The Taliban are not ready to negotiate, they need time and we do not want to rush," he told UPI Next.
"We are equally disturbed by continued drone strikes, which are disrupting the peace process in Pakistan," the minister said.
Defense analyst Mehmood Shah, a former secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, called the Taliban's refusal to enter peace talks a political gimmick.
The Taliban's organizational structure “is weakened at the moment, their network is fragile and their refusal to negotiations is, in fact, a ploy to regain their strength and reorganize themselves," Shah, a retired Pakistani army brigadier, added.
The Taliban turned against the Pakistani government after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when Pakistan became a U.S. ally in the war on terror.
The first U.S. drone strike is said to have been conducted in 2004 in Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal areas where the Taliban are believed to be hiding. The Nov. 20 drone strike that hit a madrassa is thought by officials to be one of the first outside of the tribal areas.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his October visit to the United States, said Pakistan paid a heavy cost for being an ally in the U.S.-led war on terror. He said Pakistan lost 40,000 lives in suicide attacks, land mine explosions and bomb blasts that were the work of the Taliban and other splinter militant groups across the country.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Shah Farman told UPI Next the current provincial government had always maintained that before dealing with the Taliban, "we need to deal with the U.S." for sustainable peace in the region. He said the federal government needs to work with the United States to stop all drone strikes before negotiating with the Taliban.
"The whole responsibility lies with the federal government whose foreign diplomacy has been failed, as the provincial government has no jurisdiction in this regard," Farman said.
National Assembly opposition leader Khurshid Shah of the Pakistan Peoples Party said the peace talks process was derailed after the Nov. 20 U.S. drone strike.
"It is the failure of Pakistan's foreign policy and diplomacy that the U.S. carried out [the] strike despite giving assurance to Pakistan that it would adhere to its commitment till the beginning of peace talks with the Taliban," he said.
A senior leader of another party in alliance with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's PTI government blamed the United States for what is generally perceived as the failure of the peace talks process.
"The U.S. does not want stability in Pakistan, therefore, it carried out a drone strike at a very critical time when Pakistan was about to initiate the first phase of dialogue process with the Taliban," Liaquat Baloch, secretary-general of Jamat-e-Islami, said.
Haider Abbas Rizvi, a senior member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a liberal, secular political party, told UPI Next the drone strikes should be stopped before peace talks with the Taliban.
"These drone strikes are counterproductive," he said, asking "How can we hold talks with the Taliban when drone strikes are targeting their members?”
Rizvi said the government also needed to know first who it is talking to. "There are several splinter groups of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan at the moment," he said, adding,"The government should not hold talks on the Taliban's terms and conditions, as the state is always powerful and it should make sure that its writ is established in all parts of the country," he said.
Military action must be taken against the Taliban if they do not come to the negotiating table within 30 days, he maintained.
Rizvi called for another All Parties Conference to develop a consensus strategy to deal with the new situation.
Zahid Khan, the central information secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s former ruling party, the Awami National Party, said, however, the government should not wait that long. He called for immediate talks with the Taliban.
"The government would be responsible if any chaos erupted in revenge of Hakimullah Mehsud's killing and the recent drone strike in the settled areas," he said.