Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan pushes violence; rift within coalition government
The rift within the ruling alliance, bitterness between Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the government, and the dire economic situation are shaping up to further destabilise the system.
The Pakistan government held a series of secret peace talks with the anti-Pakistan insurgent group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in June after months of intense fighting. TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, who had been leading the peace talks for the group, revealed that former director-general of ISI and Corps Commander Peshawar (Gen) Faiz Hameed has been representing the Shehbaz Sharif government. The TTP also declared an indefinite ceasefire with the Pakistani government.
The casualties of security personnel and terrorists, however, indicate the talks have floundered, without any final conclusion, and there is a strong probability that, if the talks fail, violence will escalate further.
Data shows in June itself, Pakistan recorded 102 terrorism-linked fatalities as against 66 in May, a sharp jump of 54.54 per cent. More importantly, casualties of security personnel almost doubled - from 26 to 51 - and terrorist fatalities recorded an over two-fold increase - from 13 to 31. Civilian fatalities, however, fell slightly from 27 in May to 20 in June.
Additionally, the rift within the ruling alliance, bitterness between Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the government, and the dire economic situation are shaping up to further destabilise the system.
On June 10, the federal budget with an outlay of PKR. 9.5 trillion was presented, in which loan repayment and debt servicing at PKR 3.9 trillion and the defence outlay of PKR 1.53 trillion were the two largest components. Dissatisfied with the provisions in the budget, the IMF demanded the removal of all subsidies and plans for a surplus of PKR 800 billion in order to move ahead with IMF’s USD six billion extended fund facility. Meanwhile, petroleum prices and the electricity tariff have been revised upwards to remove various subsidies, sparking second-order inflation, which was already in double digits at 13.5 per cent.
Pakistani political and military leaders also made an outreach to the international community.
Sharif travelled to Ankara in Turkey to enhance bilateral economic, defence and trade relations, and foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto visited the US and Iran to canvass for their support and cooperation.
From June 9 to 12, chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Beijing, China, to attend the Pakisatn-China Joint Military Cooperation Committee meeting and then travelled to Paris on June 13-17 to attend the Eurosatory Defence Exhibition.
In an embarrassment to Pakistan, Canadian Parliamentarian Tom Kmiec alleged that General Bajwa was instrumental in toppling two governments and the army under his command had indulged in human right violations and supported various terrorist outfits.
No breakthrough in talks with TTP
The TTP has said there won’t be a dissolution of or surrender by the group even if the peace talks with the Pakistan government succeed. Mehsud asserted that the TTP won’t back down from its demand for the reversal of the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with neighbouring province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“Our demands are clear and especially the end of FATA merger (into KP) is our primary demand, which we cannot back down from,” he said.
The TTP emir also said the Afghan Taliban is not merely a facilitator of the peace talks but also a mediator.
Chinese nationals targeted
Chinese nationals are under increasing threat. Since July 19, 2007, when the first attack targeting Chinese nationals took place, at least 14 attacks directly targeting Chinese nationals have been recorded, resulting in 77 fatalities. The dead include 13 Chinese nationals, 13 Pakistani security personnel, 41 Pakistani civilians and 10 attackers.
Another, 54 persons, including six Chinese nationals, have been injured in these attacks. At least 66 Pakistani nationals (including civilians and Security Force personnel) have been killed in attacks not directly targeting Chinese nationals, but targeting Pakistani nationals associated with the China Pakistan Economic Corridor projects, during this period.
Chasm within the ruling alliance
With disparate parties comprising the present ruling alliance, sharp differences have begun to emerge. On June 27, some leaders of the allied parties criticised government decisions in the National Assembly, claiming that the allies were not being taken on board in important matters. In order to assuage their grievances, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif hosted an informal dinner to listen to their grievances.
On June 18, during an interaction with the party’s office bearers and workers, Pakistan Peoples Party co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari declared, “The next government (at the Centre) will be the Pakistan Peoples Party’s.”
Referring to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz he argued, “They (Sharifs) listen to us only when they need us.”
However, on June 7, Asif Ali Zardari had announced that his party would cooperate with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz candidates in the 20-seat by-elections for the Punjab Assembly, scheduled to be held on July 17.
Imran Khan's warning
On June 1, PTI chairman Imran Khan warned that the country would descend into civil war, if elections were not announced at an early date.
Meanwhile, on June 7, Sharif underlined that "political stability" was a must to revive the economy. He indicated the coalition government’s intent to govern the balance 15 months of the National Assembly’s tenure, instead of seeking an early election.