PESHAWAR: Pressure from Pakhtun tribesmen in tribal region has forced the Pakistani Taliban to seek a negotiated settlement of their war with military, says a Washington Post report published on Saturday.
The report describes Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a “fractured and cash strapped,” group which is losing support of local tribesmen frustrated by a protracted war.
TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud recently offered to start peace talks with the government, raising the prospect of a negotiated end to Pakistan’s war against insurgents.
Pakistan denies providing outright military and financial help to militants fighting in Afghanistan. With 120,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions, Pakistan has waged its own bloody battle against insurgents that has left more than 4,000 soldiers dead.
In interviews with analysts, residents and militant experts, Mehsud’s network has emerged as a narrow collection of insurgents — often with links to criminal gangs — that has only limited influence in a vast tribal region overrun by scores of insurgent groups led by commanders with disparate agendas and varying loyalties.
Rather than a precursor to peace, Mehsud’s offer to talk peace is an attempt to regain stature, silence critics and gain concessions from a weak government heading into nationwide elections, according to those familiar with the militant organisation.
Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has repeatedly denied reports of divisions within the TTP, including reported challenges to Mehsud’s leadership.
But Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, said Mehsud’s offer to talk was an attempt to divert attention from internal rifts that are ripping the organisation apart and diminishing its influence. Meshud speaks for fighters restricted to his own tribe, based in North and South Waziristan, he said.
“There is a lot of tension within the TTP. This peace offer I think basically comes from Hakimullah Mehsud and the Mehsud commanders,” Rana said.
Some of his most powerful commanders have broken away and set up their own fiefdoms in other parts of the tribal area, he said.
Mehsud’s fighters are believed to number in the thousands, but there are no reliable figures to measure the size of his force.
“The Taliban’s offer for peace talks is more of a ploy to gain legitimacy and a public relations tactic than a sincere move to end violence,” militant expert and author Zahid Hussain wrote in a local newspaper this week.
“Some political leaders are shamelessly calling on the state to surrender to the very criminals who have killed thousands of Pakistanis in suicide bombings, beheaded soldiers and bombed schools,” he said.
The TTP in North Waziristan is looking for talks because it is losing the support of the local people, according to a privately funded think tank in the Pakistani capital devoted to understanding the tribal regions.
“They are weak, there is infighting,” said Mansour Mehsud, director of research at the Fata Research Centre named for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“They used to have the support of most people but not anymore,” said Mehsud, who has no relation to the TTP leader although he shares the same tribal links. “People used to think that they would bring justice based on the Quran but instead fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.”