The brazen assassination of a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister in his house on Eid day has not weakened his party’s relentless advocacy for talks with the Taliban.
Israrullah Gandapur – who was killed with seven other people when a suicide attacker blew himself up in his guest room – is the third lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) to have been killed in less than six months since the May 11 parliamentary elections. Two other PTI lawmakers – Imran Mohmand and Farid Khan – had been killed in separate attacks in June.
[quote]Gandapur is the third Tehrik-e-Insaf lawmaker killed in less than six months [/quote]
It was the most recent of a strong wave of attacks that followed a debate over the framework for negotiations with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The TTP is an umbrella group of militant outfits operating mainly from its sanctuaries in North and South Waziristan.
A little known group that calls itself Ansarul Mujahideen claimed responsibility by phone. Its members are largely Uzbek and operate from Waziristan. The group’s spokesman Abu Baseer also claimed responsibility for the killing of four policemen on a checkpoint in Peshawar on October 21. The group has claimed a number of attacks on Pakistani troops in Waziristan in the past, calling them a response to US drone strikes. Although widely condemned in Pakistan, drone attacks have killed several dreaded Uzbek terrorists, including Tahir Yaldashev in 2008 and Abu Usman Adil in 2012. The group is said to be allied with the Taliban, but is not a part of the TTP.
[quote]The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet reiterated its demand to allow the Taliban to open an office[/quote]
But in a surprising reaction, a cabinet meeting that followed the killing of the 38-year-old law minister called for negotiations with the Taliban. In a statement released to reporters, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa cabinet did call for stern measures to control law and order, but also reiterated their party’s demand to allow the Taliban to open an office in Pakistan.
Although “stunned” and “devastated” by the assassination of his colleague, PTI chairman Imran Khan stopped short, in his press statement, of asking for stern action against groups that have been challenging the writ of his party’s government since it came to power.
In early September, political leaders had gathered in Islamabad to issue a unanimous call for talks with the Taliban. The Taliban responded with the killing of a three-star army general, more than 80 Christian worshippers at a Church, and nearly 100 other civilians in the span of three weeks.
The PTI and their rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which rules in the center, had both called for peace talks with the Taliban during their election campaigns. But soon after they won the elections, the Taliban began a series of attacks. Key among them was a jailbreak in Dera Ismail Khan, in which they released a number of key terror convicts and suspects.
Israrullah’s killing near Dera Ismail Khan has no apparent connection to the jailbreak, but the two incidents have sent shockwaves among the influential families of the area, such as the Gandapurs, Kundis and Miakhels.
“We have no idea why Gandapur was attacked,” local journalist Sailab Mehsud said. “He never made even a single statement against the Taliban, despite living on the periphery of the Taliban stronghold, in Kulachi.” Kulachi is not itself a Taliban fort, but the nearby villages of Madi and Loni have strong are strong support bases for the Waziristan based TTP, he said.
That was the route the Taliban took when they attacked the Dera Ismail Khan jail. “They used they same route coming in and going out of the city after the spectacular jailbreak, but the government did not bother to see what was happening there,” said a local elder who asked not to be named because of security concerns.
Attacks on members of the PTI – which opposes the US war on terror and had led a much trumpeted long march towards Waziristan to shore up support against US attacks carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles that the Ansarul Mujahideen themselves oppose – has raised new concerns in the province, and called into question the efficacy of a dialogue with militants.
Despite the unprecedented peace offers that some of the PTI’s political rivals see as sympathy for the Taliban and others equate with surrender, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has not seen a stretch of peace lasting more than a few days in the last two months.