The Pakistani Taliban has as many as 500 female suicide bombers ready to act, a representative of the group involved in peace negotiations said, underscoring the risk of further violence if talks fail.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan -- known as the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP -- sees no urgency to reach an agreement with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, Maulana Abdul Aziz, one of three negotiators representing the TTP, said in a Feb. 7 interview at his Islamabad seminary. The two sides started talks last week.
“You should know that at the moment they have at least 400 to 500 female suicide bombers in Waziristan and other tribal areas,” said Aziz, former head cleric of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, referring to the TTP. “The government should realize the situation and their demands.”
Sharif revived peace talks with the group as pressure grows for a military strike after attacks last month killed more than two dozen soldiers, part of violence that caused the deaths of 40,000 Pakistanis since 2001. Failure to reach a deal would threaten Sharif’s efforts to bolster the $225 billion economy as the U.S. reduces troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Imran Khan, whose party runs a province bordering Afghanistan, predicted in an interview last week that terrorist attacks would prompt the talks to fail, and a military operation would start soon afterward. Khan turned down an offer from the TTP to sit on the same committee as Aziz.
Aziz said the Taliban is most interested in implementing Sharia law in Pakistan. The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is “a very small factor” in the fight, he said, disputing statements by Khan and others.
“They are fighting for the implementation of Sharia,” Aziz said at the seminary, where some 1,300 female students are studying. “It’s the law of nature that when people don’t get their rights, they pick up arms.”
The Pakistani Taliban has demanded the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas and the release of prisoners, Dawn newspaper reported today, citing officials it did not identify. The demands stemmed from a meeting of TTP clerics over the weekend, the report said.
The number of female suicide bombers mentioned by Aziz “is a very exaggerated figure,” said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. “The Taliban are way ahead in the propaganda war, and they have given a tough time to the state,” he said. “Female suicide bombers have been used, but not too many.”
Aziz’s brother died in 2007 along with at least 100 others when former President Pervez Musharraf ordered troops to storm the Red Mosque to end a challenge by pro-Taliban clerics seeking to impose Islamic law in the capital. The move sparked demonstrations and reprisal attacks.
Aziz, who was jailed for two years after the Red Mosque raid, last week temporarily withdrew himself from the talks because the government insisted the negotiations be held under the constitution and avoid including the imposition of Islamic Sharia law, a key TTP demand. He will remain on the TTP’s committee, he said.
“The Taliban are in no hurry,” Aziz said, when asked whether the group wanted a deal soon to avoid a military strike. “They say they are not worried about it. They have been in a state of war for the past 10 years.”
Sharif won an election last year after pledging negotiations with the TTP, a loose group of militants operating along the Afghan border. While Sharif received the backing of all political parties in September to begin talks, the two sides had postponed meeting amid a series of suicide bombings and a U.S. drone strike that killed the TTP’s leader.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who leads the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party, has called on Sharif to take a tougher line against the militants. He said in a Jan. 28 Twitter post that Sharif was following a “policy of appeasement.”
In 2009, Taliban militants took control of Swat district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, which forbade girls to attend schools. They beheaded local officials and burned schools in a two-year fight that uprooted 2 million people from their homes before a 10-week army offensive ended their rule.
Suicide bombers have been used frequently in the conflict, including two that killed more than 80 people at a Christian church in Peshawar in September. Aziz justified the use of suicide bombers, saying that they believed in the cause and were willing to sacrifice.
“If the military has weapons and air power, they have suicide bombers,” Aziz said of the Taliban. “You cannot match them. Suicide bombers even destroyed the power of America in Afghanistan.”
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