The political party led by Imran Khan formed a government in Pakistan’s militancy ravaged northwest, where his call for an end to army offensives against the Taliban and U.S. drone strikes resonated with voters.
Pervez Khattak of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was elected today as chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, a gateway to the tribal area on the Afghan border that guerrilla groups use as a base. He takes over amid fresh turmoil in the region after the May 29 killing of the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, Waliur Rehman, by a U.S. pilotless aircraft.
Pakistan’s Taliban reacted to Rehman’s death by withdrawing an offer for peace talks, the Dawn newspaper reported today, citing the group’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan. The Pakistani government and military are equally responsible for the missile attack as they provide intelligence to the U.S., the report said, quoting Ehsan.
Ending violence “is a very big challenge for us,” Shafqat Mahmood, a senior official in Khan’s party, said by phone from Lahore this week. “We want to work with the federal government and the military to solve the problem in the tribal areas.” The PTI plans to hold elections to local councils within 90 days, he said.
In simultaneous ballots for regional assemblies and the federal parliament on May 11, Khan ended almost two decades on the fringes of Pakistani politics. The PTI will lead an alliance including religious and regional parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. It’s also the third largest party in the national legislature.
Incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is scheduled to take office June 5, had planned to invite the Taliban to a “peace jirga” or council as one of his first acts in office, local media reported. Khan has also called for negotiations to end fighting with the insurgent movement and allied guerrillas that has killed 40,000 people since military leader Pervez Musharraf decided to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
A spokesman for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party told the Associated Press it would continue to push for talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban. “There must be a formal contact between the TTP and our government when we come into power,” AP quoted Siddique-ul-Farooq as saying.
Any renewed drive for talks by civilian authorities will have to win the support of the military which dominates security policy. The army has in the past agreed to support deals with the Taliban which quickly collapsed. A 2009 pact to end fighting in the Swat valley in return for the government placing the region under Shariah rule was abandoned as insurgents broke the agreement and advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad.
“There is no convergence, at least for now, between the military thinking” and the approach of politicians like Sharif and Khan, said Talat Masood, a retired army general and independent political analyst, by phone from Islamabad. “The military wants full support for its campaign.”
The U.S., Pakistan’s biggest aid donor, has long demanded the army extend its offensives in the northwest to include groups like the Haqqani network that attack American and Afghan forces across the border.
Pakistan’s Taliban movement is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations that are opposed to Pakistan’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law. In a video message in February, the Taliban said it was willing to hold negotiations if Sharif supported the process.
Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket world cup, won 35 out of 99 contested seats in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s assembly. His party will govern the province in an alliance that contains the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s most powerful Islamist party, and Qaumi Watan Party.
Seven federally administered tribal regions such as North and South Waziristan, many of them Taliban strongholds, won’t be governed by the PTI-led coalition.
Still, the Taliban carries out regular attacks in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including in the provincial capital of Peshawar. Convoys carrying supplies for U.S. forces in Afghanistan travel through the region.
“The KPK government will be a test case for Imran Khan’s party,” Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst and former professor at the University of Punjab, said in a phone interview. “They will have to prove themselves as a better administrator and better guarantor for peace.”