The decision of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) to lead a march next month to the notorious Waziristan area is generating quite a buzz. Especially, after details of the interview given by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Spokesperson Ihsan Ullah Ihsan to AP came out.
It is intriguing that TTP has felt the visit significant enough to arrange an interview with AP with all the risks this maneuver may have entailed. Moreover, the flip-flopping statements that have emanated ever since reflect on TTP’s confusion over what PTI may be attempting to accomplish. And, from this derives another critical question; what is Imran actually trying to achieve by his visit to this forsaken, drone afflicted, the so-called extremist haven.
PTI’s intent for this trip to the dreaded epicenter of terror can be analyzed from a domestic and international perspective. Equally essential is to first study PTI’s stand regarding drone strikes and the war on terror.
The party claims the objective of the planned march is to protest the drone strikes that are carried out in FATA and that are, according to the interpretation it has adopted, causing significant civilian casualties. PTI has led an international campaign against drone strikes, asserting its blowback brews more extremism, and are a violation of international law and sovereignty of the country.
PTI has consistently maintained that Pakistan should distance itself from the NATO/US-led war in Afghanistan that has caused acute loss of blood and treasure to the nation. The party is vehemently against the use of Pakistan’s military in operations against its own people.
Moreover, PTI believes that as long as there is the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, the Pashtun resistance against them will not only continue in Afghanistan but also across the border in Pakistan. In this regards, PTI’ s position is similar to the one propagated by TTP, and for that matter even by Afghan Taliban. In essence, PTI is against military operations and is a political solution.
PTI’s Strategy And TTP
Turning to the domestic context under which Imran will be visiting South Waziristan. As the debate on new provinces has raged in Pakistan, discussions have also revolved around how to best manage FATA, after all, it is part of the country. For this purpose, a number of propositions have been circulated. According to Abdul Qayyum Khan Kundi, who is a member of PTI’s advisory committee, “PTI’s domestic policy is that no part of Pakistan should be beyond the reach of government. PTI is working on policy proposals to convert FATA into a province of Pakistan to bring them under the constitution of Pakistan. This will enable the people of FATA to have access to resources for infrastructure development, job creation, and better education. We are aware of the international implications of this approach and are confident it is in the best interest of Pakistan.”
Kandi goes on to state, “By threatening the march of PTI, TTP is trying to legitimize itself as a force in Waziristan and to establish it as their area of influence. People of Waziristan want to be a part of the political process and have shown enthusiasm to participate in the protest march of PTI to support their cause.”
The above PTI position explains the ferocious response by Ihsan Ullah Ihsan, who clearly differentiated Imran as being a liberal. The point is that TTP may have sensed that using its public appeal, PTI may threaten its exclusive domain and political agenda. While Imran’s stances on the drones and war against terror are generally considered supportive of Taliban’s, the recent tit-for-tat responses have laid bare the differences between TTP and PTI.
The host of the popular TV show, Kamran Khan, glaringly missed these divergences in his August 10th program. Mr. Kamran seemed to have picked the wrong premise when he interviewed two experts on the Taliban, Saleem Safi, and Rahimullah Yusufzai. It’s futile to examine which political party TTP may have the affinity with as it does not believe in the western democratic model.
Saleem Safi correctly noted this while reading out from the recent letter sent by TTP to Muslim scholars. TTP is an extremist group with an anti-Pakistan agenda. On the other hand, Imran and PTI are working within the democratic system to bring about change, using non-violent means. PTI is a conservative political party with a nationalistic agenda.
Waziristan And War Against Terror
Like Yemen and Somalia, Waziristan occupies a prominent place on the global terror radar. The US has been after Pakistan for quite some time to conduct a military operation in North Waziristan, where Al Qaeda, Haqqani network, and other brands of international and local extremists are believed to hobnob and cross-pollinate their tactics and strategies. For example, the Shura-e-Makeba reportedly came into existence after meetings between TTP, Al-Qaeda, and Afghan Taliban last November and December in Wanna and Data Khel.
The US has, on a number of occasions, threatened to conduct a unilateral operation in the area if Pakistan fails to act. The topic was a key agenda item in the recent high-profile meeting between Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam and Gen David Petraeus. Since the meeting, a couple of western media outlets have claimed that US and Pakistan have agreed to joint operations in Waziristan. Pakistan was quick to refute these claims and clarified what was meant by joint operations was a coordinated action on each of side of the border, to be conducted by the respective forces.
Clearly, PTI’s position is at odds with the present premise of US policy towards Afghanistan and FATA.
Pakistan’s Political Landscape And Extremism
Whether Pakistan likes it or not, extremism and the war on terror has become a reality through which the western world views its relations with the country. The prominent political parties of Pakistan have found it difficult to incorporate and reconcile this fact in within their domestic and international political strategy. At the time Musharraf left, a majority of the parties contested elections talking about distancing themselves from the war. The unfolding events proved that it was easier said than done.
In the upcoming elections, the war on terror and will remain an overarching challenge. Whichever party can holistically shape a policy on how to deal with extremism is likely to gain the invincible advantage over the others. PTI appears to be positioning itself to do just that, and in that sense, its ambition will clash with the prerogative Pakistani Taliban claim to have.