Peshawar bombings and Taliban peace process

A series of bombings took place in Peshawar this September.

Bilal Khan from Revolution Observer describes how “peace talks” with the Taliban has revolved around the role of the US in Pakistan.

September has seen Peshawar, Pakistan’s north-western city, endure a series of fatal bombings. The first two attacks occurred simultaneously on the 22nd at All Saints Church, killing over 80 people.

The third attack took place five days later with a bus bombing killing 19 government employees, and two days following that attack, a car bomb at the Qisa Khawani Market killing over 40 people.

The fifth attack was on October 7th, a car bomb allegedly targeting anti-polio campaigners. These attacks took place in the midst of renewed ceasefire talks with the Taliban (pushed by Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan), thus resulting in considerable criticism and pressure towards the entire process, as noted by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar: “this incident has dealt a serious blow (to the peace process).”

Peace talks

Despite the attacks, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vowed to continue with the talks, as he had promised during his election campaign – amid considerable public disapproval towards Pakistan’s participating in the US-led War on Terror. A war that has cost Pakistan upwards of $100 billion in economic losses and roughly 50,000 in lives.

Sharif even went as far as vouching the Taliban’s claims that it was not complicit in of the attacks in Peshawar, or even an earlier attack killing a two-star general. This position has seemingly put Sharif on opposite end with his now retiring Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani, who asserted that “terrorists will not be allowed to take advantage” of the negotiations.

Even though talks have yet to formally begin, doubt has already been cast over whether they will succeed; it is very unlikely that the Taliban and Government would concede to one another’s demands, ie the withdrawal of troops from the tribal belt and the disarmament of the militants, respectively. With the so-called political process failing, the stage is being set for another conflict within the country, resulting in a number of critical implications.

Firstly, the mere possibility of fresh fighting will add more reason to maintaining General Kayani’s presence in the military command structure. The rationale being to maintain the Army’s discipline and efficiency, both of which will be affected in the midst of leadership change.

Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif
Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif

This will merely ensure that the Army’s current top brass remain in power (ie the ones who had driven Pakistan into its last costly war in Waziristan), leaving no room for real change within the Army’s strategy of addressing the issue of terrorism within the country. The net result would easily be another costly war.

The apparent “clash” between Nawaz Sharif’s government and the Army leadership has led to a perception that governance in Pakistan is becoming ineffective, and ultimately, void of real leadership. Alongside another spate of bombings against civilians, warfare in the tribal regions and the like, this condition will characterize Pakistan as a crumbling state.

How long would it be in such a scenario until the international community – led by the US and India – begin questioning (again) Pakistan’s capacity to secure its nuclear assets?

Secondly, whatever differences Sharif and Kayani are alluding to on the surface, the two are merely steering Pakistan towards one destination, weakness. Whereas Kayani steered Pakistan into an incredibly damaging civil war a few years earlier, and is willing to engage in another, Nawaz Sharif has eroded Pakistan’s territorial and foreign interests.

In his recent trip to India, Nawaz Sharif neglected to account India for its drive to subvert Pakistan’s water interests. Despite the obvious maliciousness of India’s actions, “neither Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif nor any of his ministers including the one for water and power has yet talked about India’s water offensive.” 

Such transgressions will have dire economic consequences on Pakistan, not least towards the country’s agricultural and fishing industries, but also its energy needs. The lack of Sharif’s seriousness on this matter is telling, especially since Pakistan is now being positioned to be dependent upon India on a resource as essential as water.

In fact, Sharif is not even serious about negotiations with the Taliban. The fact that his government demanded that the Taliban disarm and respect the Pakistani constitution, conditions that the Taliban will not accept, demonstrate that his end-aims are not far removed from those of Kayani. The “peace” process is merely a facade to pacify the Pakistani people’s disapproval of the US-led War on Terror.

Finally, there is the United States and the overt actions it had undertake to weaken Pakistan’s internal stability and undermine its international credibility. Since the events of 9/11, Pakistan’s assistance to the US has been met with a series of drone strikes against Pakistani citizens on Pakistani soil, 50,000 lives and $100b in economic losses. Despite the clearly damaging and destabilizing nature of the relationship, the government and military have done nothing to address the matter in a manner expected of an independent state. 

US threat

The Abbottabad raid for Osama bin Laden in 2011 set Pakistan up as an inept and undependable entity in the international arena. Also unclear is how the Pakistani government is addressing the presence of deeply-embedded US intelligence operatives throughout the country, as evidenced during the Raymond Davis-arc and the Abbottabad raid.

The notion that war with the Taliban would take priority over the threats posed by the US is astonishing, especially when the Taliban themselves are asking that Pakistan address the US threat as a condition for peace.

With such fundamental issues (ie political sovereignty and territorial integrity) left unresolved, it is folly to believe that Pakistan would appropriately address its internal problems, be it with regards to the Taliban, the sectarian divides or the weak economy. However, the unwillingness of two successive Pakistani governments (and the Army Chief, Kayani) to address these fundamental problems is telling, especially when grievances of the Taliban regarding the US align with those of Pakistan as well.

By damaging Pakistan’s vital interests in the manner that they are, Kayani and Sharif are merely strengthening the hand of the US and India. They are simply setting Pakistan up for failure.

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