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Politics divides Pak govts over Taliban

At the heart of the refusal of the Pakistan Punjab government to place the Tehreek e Taliban on a militant watchlist is a political battle between the state and federal governments. And the former's interest in keeping an open door to Punjabi militant groups believed to be close to the Tehreek.

world Updated: Jul 08, 2010 02:01 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

At the heart of the refusal of the Pakistan Punjab government to place the Tehreek e Taliban on a militant watchlist is a political battle between the state and federal governments. And the former's interest in keeping an open door to Punjabi militant groups believed to be close to the Tehreek.

Sharif on Afghanistan

Admitting that his pro-Afghan Taliban policy in the 1990’s was a failure, former Pakistan Prime Minister and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif has said that Pakistan should stop trying to influence affairs in Afghanistan.
Sharif, who has repeatedly urged the government to open talks with the Pakistani Taliban, further said that Islamabad should take the initiative instead of waiting for directives from Washington.

As tensions grow between the centre and the Punjab government the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, Nawaz Sharif, has said that his party will now act as "a real opposition party,” as against what he termed "a friendly opposition party."

Relations between the PML-N government in Punjab headed by Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party have worsened over allegations that the PML-N, which is a right of centre party, continues to enjoy relations with extremist and militant organisations, which in turn are politically aligned to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan People’s Party information secretary Fauzia Wahab says that the PML-N has "proven links" with the extremist organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, who have helped the party win seat in closely fought elections in Punjab.

At the center of the storm is Rana Sanaullah, the law minister in the Punjab government, who is seen to be close to the Sharif brothers. In recent elections as well, Sanaullah garnered the support of militant organisations who helped sway votes in the conservative parts of the province like the Central Punjab belt.

The sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba organisation has pushed the vote of majority Sunni Muslims away from Shia candidates, many of whom are backed by the PPP.

But Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif argues that if his government was supporting the militants, why then would the militants stage most of their attacks in Punjab.

Shahbaz Sharif also takes offence to the branding of some Taliban as the "Punjabi Taliban," arguing that the Taliban can be from anywhere — "why are we giving it an ethnic flavour."

Critics of the Punjab government argue that the PML-N has cast a blind eye to the activities of many militant organisations "and this itself mounts to supporting them," says Ayesha Siddiqa, a defence analyst.