In January, Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif reached out to one of the most well-organized Pakistani Taliban groups, the Tehrik-i-Taliban (or TTP) to begin peace dialogues. Calling for a ceasefire between the near-daily clashes with government forces in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (FATA), the talks were quickly derailed after TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in Karachi which claimed the lives of three members of the Pakistani military. But what really caused an impasse was the revelation that another Taliban associated group (calling itself the “Mohamed Agency Taliban”) claimed responsibility for the deaths of 23 soldiers in an unattributed attack in 2010.
The bomb attacks resulted in several targeted airstrikes near the Afghan border last month, after which the TTP announced a one-month ceasefire and found it was reciprocated by the government and allowed the peace process to move forward. Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan, along with PM Sharif, set up a new government committee, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S) to handle the peace talks.
The head of the committee, Maulana Samiul Haq, announced yesterday that direct talks were being set up within the next few days, a promising development in a seven-year long insurgency by Taliban-associated extremist groups. Sami made the rather startling claim, however, that all factions of the Taliban were united over the issue of holding talks and that the group that claimed responsibility for an attack in Islamabad earlier this month, the Ahrarul Hind, was a fictitious label for extant Taliban groups. This may simply be a tactic to reassure hardlines and hawks within the Pakistani government that a holistic peace is possible, as the Ahrarul Hind is the only Taliban-associated group thus far not to outright reject peace talks.
Other disagreements have caused friction between the two enemies as well. The TTP has three main demands that the media has thus far reported: imposition of Sharia law, withdrawal of the military from south Waziristan, and the release of political prisoners. The government has outright rejected the second demand of “demilitarization” of Waziristan, claiming it infringes upon the sovereignty of the people of Pakistan. The others could be seen as bargaining chips, particularly the release of political prisoners, which is where the JUI-S is expected to offer the most in the way of concessions to the TTP.
- The second round of negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran concluded this past week with statements of cautious optimism. Without divulging details of the negotiations, both Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and EU chief of foreign affairs Cahtherine Ashton described the talks as “useful and substantive.” Among the items that were likely to have been discussed the Vienna talks were the ability of Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor to produce fissile material, restrictions on uranium enrichment and the ongoing sanctions regime that has been choking the Iranian economy over the past few years. Despite the current crisis in Crimea, delays in the negotiations are not expected.
- Coordinated raids of Taliban encampments across Afghanistan left 18 insurgents dead and another seven injured. The raids were carried out in Kunar, Zabul, Wardak, Farah and Helmand provinces, among many others. The details of Afghan military casualties were not released, though the Taliban has issued a statement claiming to have gunned down many members of Afghanistan’s military. In apparent retaliation for the attacks, a suicide bomber struck a police station in Jalalabad, killing at least 18, including 10 policemen. An escalation of Taliban violence on the eve of presidential elections threatens to derail efforts to execute a peaceful transition of power. Thursday’s attack was preceded by a suicide attack in Afghanistan’s Faryab province which resulted in the deaths of 16 others, and an attack by gunmen on a luxurious Afghan hotel left an additional four dead on Thursday.
- The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan has aggressively expanded its presence in the Pakistani-Afghan border regions. The IMU’s footprint has been detected on a variety of attacks in chaotic northern Afghanistan and has been linked to Pakistan terror group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Uzbek government has issued a statement affirming that it is continuing efforts to prevent and combat Islamic radicalism throughout the country and throughout the country, and has pledged to thwart recruiting efforts within Uzbekistan. Noticeably missing from the Uzbek government’s anti-terror efforts has been regional cooperation with other Central and South Asian states, thereby providing a testament to a history of frayed relations with neighboring states.
- Russian gas and oil giant Gazprom has begun exploration of newly-discovered gas fields within Tajikistan. Development of the Shahrinva-1P wildcat well was undertaken in central Tajikistan, near the district of Sharinav, and is expected to reach a depth of approximately 6,450 meters. Additional drilling has been discussed in Tajikistan’s Shohambari gas field, and Gazprom chief Alexei Miller has stated his interest in competing with French and Chinese developers in the Tajik gas and oil markets.