Screencap of Pakistani Taliban video courtesy of Umar Media via LiveLeak.

A Decade Of Violence Casts A Shadow On Pakistan Taliban Peace Talks

Screencap of Pakistani Taliban video courtesy of Umar Media via LiveLeak.

The Pakistani Taliban have been a main target for U.S. drone strikes, and are currently in peace talks with the Pakistani government. But who are they?

Obviously, the organization shares a name with the infamous Afghan Islamists. But the Pakistani Taliban, although they have cooperated at times, are a distinct group with different goals.

The group originates from the early 2000s, when the Pakistani government organized a large-scale offensive against al-Qaeda affiliates in the rural, semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwest Pakistan:

pakistantalibanmap

Image courtesy of Wikipedia. Country names added by Curiousmatic.

  • As of the 1998 census, the latest available, the underdeveloped region is home to a little more than 3 million people, about 1.5% of Pakistan’s total population of 179 million.
  • It covers 10,507 square miles, about the same size as Massachusetts.
  • Female literacy is at 3%, almost the lowest in the world, and opium and contraband are common export goods.

Foreign Al-Qaeda militants were believed to be hiding in the region after having fled from neighboring Afghanistan. But the massive offensive united the local tribesmen, who saw it as an incursion on its territory.

It has been fighting the Pakistani government since, morphing with the fleeing supporters of the Afghan Taliban.

In 2007, it was officially announced as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an Urdu/Pashto phrase meaning, roughly,  “Student of Islam Movement of Pakistan.”

Its stated goals (pdf) are to enforce Sharia law, unite against NATO forces, and wage jihad on the Pakistani military.

Why is the U.S. targeting the Pakistani Taliban?

Since 9/11, there’s been an uneasy alliance between Pakistan and the U.S. in the fight against Islamists. As a result, the Pakistani assault on the FATA region was heavily supported by the U.S.

Additionally, the group has sponsored or committed several attacks on Americans, including the fatal bombing of a CIA base in Afghanistan, and the failed 2010 Times Square bombing.

A significant amount of Al Qaeda commanders are also believed to be hiding in the region, and have been the main target of the almost 400 drone strikes the U.S. has completed in Pakistan.

But although the Taliban is considered as large a threat to Pakistan as long-time, nuclear-armed rival India, a majority of Pakistani people thinks the U.S. shouldn’t be involved with the conflict, according to Pew Research.

Pakistan Taliban peace talks and warfare

Starting in 2007, a wave of Taliban suicide bombings started to hit Pakistan, which was almost unheard of before. Almost 5,000 people have been killed as a result, according to the site Pakistan Body Count.

The group was also behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007, and wants to impose strict Sharia law across Pakistan.

But despite a decade-long intensive military campaign, with a $67 billion price tag, the government has not managed to uproot the Taliban, believed to have around 25,000 fighters.

Tired of war, it now turns to diplomacy. Talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the government are ongoing, with a condition for peace being an end to U.S. drone strikes.

Despite intermittent ceasefire deals, the Taliban has continued its violence against civilians and armed forces, while the government has continued jet strikes against alleged insurgents.

The U.S. is not involved with the talks, but is believed to have reduced the amount of drone strikes at the government’s request, in an attempt to facilitate negotiation.

Whether the peace deal will be successful remains open – but the Pakistani government is hoping that war weariness will spread discord among the Taliban and lead to an agreement, the BBC reports.

Ole Skaar