Ending Terrorism a Challenge for PTI in Pakistan Province

By Sumeera Riaz, written for UPI.com  |  June 12, 2013 at 10:17 AM
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PESHAWAR, Pakistan, May 10 (UPI Next) -- The new government in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to be led by the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party, will face a formidable task in carrying out PTI's promise to end terrorism and restore law and order, given the history of violence in the province.

With almost 45 percent of the province's voters having turned out in last month's landmark elections -- compared to 34 percent in the previous elections in 2008 -- PTI won the most votes. However, the party, led by former cricket star Imran Khan, only won 35 of the 99 seats. It will form a coalition government with religious party Jamaat-e-Islami and the Pashtun neo-nationalist Qaumi Watan Party, which each won seven seats, and independent candidates.

PTI campaigned heavily in the province, with the end of terrorism and restoration of law and order as a major plank in its platform, promising to hold talks with the Taliban to negotiate peace.

The party will face a substantial task. The province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan's northern tribal areas, making it more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Terrorist groups, most notably the Taliban, are believed to be hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan and are often targeted by U.S. drone strikes and Pakistani forces.

During the campaign, several Taliban suicide attacks claimed hundreds of lives in the capital, Peshawar, and elsewhere in the province.

Ahtasham Bashir, 45, said he voted for PTI because of its promises to bring peace to the region.

He said he wanted to end military operations in the tribal areas because "the more action the military forces take, the more backlash from Taliban we have to face."

He told UPI Next he wanted a "political solution to curb terrorism in the region."

The framework of the dialogue likely to be proposed by Pakistan's federal government for negotiations with the Taliban will decide the success of any talks, according to political analyst Hasan Askari, a member of the University of Punjab's visiting faculty.

He told UPI Next that the May 24 terrorist attack in Peshawar "suggests that a friendly stance towards the Taliban doesn't work," referring to a suicide attack outside a mosque in which three people were killed.

"I don't believe that the PTI government will be able to handle the law and order situation in the province," he said.

However, the PTI provincial party secretary, General Shaukat Yousafzai told UPI Next that people look toward the PTI for new solutions, after the failure of previous governments to bring peace in the region.

"Our demand is to pull out security forces from tribal areas and revive political administration there, which will subsequently bring about peace in the region," he said.

"We don't want war, we want peace. This is a U.S. war, it doesn't belong to us. The (previous) government failed because it never condemned U.S. drone strikes in the tribal areas," he said.

The former secretary of the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas, former Brigadier Mahmood Shah, is cautious about the outcome of the talks likely to take place between the Taliban and the new government, saying the Taliban has been regrouping on both sides of the border for more coordinated attacks.

In addition he said the planned U.S. departure from Afghanistan without having struck a deal or reached a political solution with the Taliban could lead to civil war in Afghanistan, which could have fallout in nearby regions of Pakistan.

Former Pakistani high commissioner to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand told UPI Next the provincial government would have little role to play in talks with the Taliban and that the Taliban would prefer to negotiate directly with the federal government in Islamabad.

"The PTI may be taken on board by the federal government in negotiations with the Taliban but it would have little leverage to take any separate stance on the issue," he said.

Mohmand suggested that the top priority of the federal government should be to end military operations in the tribal areas.

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