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Karin Brulliard and Haq Nawaz Khan, Hindustan Times
Islamabad, October 18, 2011
Amid growing American frustration with Pakistan’s handling of Islamic militancy, the government here appears less willing than ever to challenge insurgent groups and is more inclined to make peace with them. In a series of recent statements, Pakistani officials have rejected the notion of robust military action against insurgents based in its tribal belt and instead called for truces. At a recent summit, political leaders issued a resolution that did not condemn terrorism but said their policy is dialogue. The decree was widely viewed as having been rubber-stamped by the powerful military, whose top two figures briefed the conference.

The approach has puzzled US and renewed debate in Pakistan about how to handle insurgents who have killed thousands in attacks nationwide.

Much remains unclear about the potential for peacemaking, including which militant groups would be included or willing. But some analysts say Pakistan has lost the resolve to battle homegrown insurgents who many here view as disgruntled brethren.

“Everyone went along with what the army wanted” at the recent political summit, said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on militancy in the northwest. “It became obvious that the military has no appetite for military operations.”

Many here express skepticism about talks, arguing that such efforts had failed in the past. But the idea is backed by Islamic parties and other political leaders.

In interviews, politicians and security officials said Pakistan views the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella insurgent group that is an offshoot of the Afghan movement, as splintered enough to be open to peace deals mediated through tribal elders or clerics. And the US, they note, is supporting a similar approach in Afghanistan.

“If by giving a chance to peace, any terror is eliminated, it’s the best option,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a leading ruling party figure, said in an interview. He added that he had received armistice offers from militants: “They want to talk.”

Pakistan’s fragile civilian government regularly condemns terrorism, and the army has executed several operations in the country’s northwest, including against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The battles have scattered some militant leaders, leaving the organization weakened but still capable of carrying out deadly attacks. But there is little public enthusiasm for large-scale military action, which could displace millions of people.

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