Two committees—one nominated by the Islamabad government, another by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan—are presently engaged in ‘peace’ talks. We spoke with Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, about the dialogue, their reach, Aitzaz Hasan, Veena Malik and more. Excerpts:
The government says peace talks will be conducted within the framework of the Constitution. Your nominated committee has said the framework should be Shariah. Can this difference be resolved?
Both sides had agreed not to impose preconditions. We see this as a precondition. Tehreek-e-Taliban is at war with the government for two reasons: friendship with the U.S. and the continuation of the un-Islamic democratic system. We want the establishment of Shariah in Pakistan; this was the reason that Pakistan was created.
What, if any, reservations do you have about the official four-member committee formed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the talks? And why did you nominate your own non-Taliban committee instead of opting for direct contact?
The government can nominate any committee it likes and so can we. If these members have decision-making powers, then we have no reservations. We are not negotiating with the government directly for obvious reasons. We are in a virtual war zone from where contact cannot be reliably made. Our [non-Taliban] committee is based outside of this war zone and its work will therefore not be hampered. We are also aware that peace talks have, in the past, been used to deceive us and to arrest our members, like Haji Muslim Khan of Swat and two of his colleagues. It has been wrongly claimed that they were arrested in an operation. They were invited to Islamabad for talks and arrested there. So it is difficult for us to rely on the government’s word. The [non-Taliban] committee will help us gauge the sincerity of the government. Once confidence and seriousness are established, then we can consider direct contact.
You want Shariah and desire establishment of a caliphate. Are there people among you who are capable of running the government? *
We are fighting for Shariah keeping in mind the persons who can establish the caliphate and run the system as a caliph. We consider Mullah Omar as the Amir-ul-Momineen. In Pakistan, Mullah Fazlullah is leading us and he has all the qualities to lead the Pakistani nation.
According to reports, the Taliban have issued a list of demands, including the release of prisoners, to further the peace process. Are these accurate?
We do not disagree with the demands being attributed to us in the media. However, we have issued no such information to the media. Our clear position has been communicated to the government through the [non-Taliban] committee.
Do you fear a full-scale military operation in the tribal areas if the talks fail?
We want the peace talks to succeed. Previous rounds failed because of the government’s nonseriousness and foreign pressure. If these talks fail, the government will obviously try to launch a military operation. But we have been tested before and passed such phases with success dozens of times. Another military operation cannot harm the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Our network has only expanded economically, militarily and politically.
But the Taliban did suffer defeat in Swat?
You are defeated only if your system is completely eradicated. You can lose land and be considered defeated or you can lose your capability to fight for Shariah and be considered defeated. Losing land does not matter to us. The military operation in Swat strengthened the Taliban; the entire Tehreek-e-Taliban is now in the hands of the Swat Taliban. So the military operation flopped badly.
Despite the talks there’s been no end to terrorist activities.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban has distanced itself from these recent incidents, which were not carried out by us. The basic purpose of the dialogue is to end the war. Neither side has offered a ceasefire yet. We are ready for a ceasefire, but since this war was imposed on us, the government should announce the ceasefire first.
There is confusion and disagreement over whose Shariah will be acceptable since there are so many sects among Pakistan’s Muslims.
We are Muslims and every Muslim is passionate about Shariah. The majority of Pakistanis are Sunni Hanfis—theirs is the best system and no one should oppose it. Non-Muslims also need not fear the Shariah as Islam protects their rights.
What is the on-ground situation in North Waziristan following the targeted airstrikes by the Pakistani military?
North Waziristan is the land of Hafiz Gul Bahadur, but our men also go through that territory sometimes. The airstrikes killed innocent people; our losses were negligible. The military targeted only women and children, and mosques and bazaars. They claimed the deaths of Adnan Rasheed, Asmatullah Shaheen, Commander Wali Muhammad, and Commander Hafiz Saeed Khan in Khyber agency, but all of them are alive.
What do you think of Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah’s statement that 174 areas of the Punjab have been identified for military operations?
He can conduct any kind of military operation he likes. They are already conducting raids in Karachi, arresting and killing innocent people and our friends in the name of fighting the Taliban. This is part of their psychological war. We see Rana Sanaullah’s statement as a threat against the madrassahs imparting education in Punjab.
Is the government paying adequate attention to law and order?
If you start from Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister and see the Surrey Palace scandal, the polo ground case, the Swiss case, privatization, the National Reconciliation Ordinance, you will see what every regime has been up to. This system of governance is the root of all evil; it has imposed these people on us. People’s honor is not safe: 5-year-old girls are being raped and killed and their predators are roaming around with impunity. Corruption is the result of this system. Once we get rid of the system, God willing, such problems will go away.
How far and wide is your organization spread?
We have carried out big attacks everywhere, from the tribal areas to Karachi. Our most effective activities have been in Punjab and Sindh. Whether it is GHQ or Kamra or PNS Mehran or foreigners in the Northern Areas, we have influence all over the country. If the talks fail and an operation is launched, we will have no regrets about what happens next.
How do you view the killings of polio vaccinators?
No comment. But I will say that the Taliban have never accepted responsibility for these attacks. You cannot ignore the conspiracies being hatched in the disguise of polio vaccinations.
Do you have any funding support from abroad?
We are an Islamic militant organization, so we have the sympathies of Muslims everywhere. People ask where we get weaponry from. I want to make it clear that in the tribal areas everyone carries a weapon. The heavy weapons we have were snatched from government forces.
How do you see the Musharraf treason case?
The justice system of Pakistan has no importance to us. Musharraf was a cruel dictator. He helped the U.S. attack Afghanistan, he provided logistics to the Americans, and he started a war inside Pakistan to make them happy. Another crime of Musharraf is the operation against Lal Masjid. Musharraf is responsible for all the trouble in Pakistan and his successors did wrong to continue his policies. We have no interest in his trial for treason. If Allah gives us the opportunity, we will punish him under the Shariah for his real crimes.
Former Army chief Ashfaq Kayani is reportedly facing security threats and former ISI chief Shuja Pasha has moved to Dubai. Are these threats emanating from the Taliban?
Our war is not restricted to Kayani or Pasha. Our frontline enemy is the Pakistan Army and its main characters. So if we get an opportunity to target, we will attack.
What is your opinion of Aitzaz Hasan, the young boy killed in Hangu?
The Malala and Aitzaz types of people are not the heroes of Muslims. Aitzaz was not attacked by our organization; he was attacked by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. He was not a hero. Why are the innocent women and children being killed by security forces not regarded as heroes? Why are their innocent families not being given compensation? The government is trying to boost their own morale by creating false heroes like Aitzaz and Malala.
How do you identify your targets?
We target those who are actually confronting us and who are opposing Shariah. But mainly our focus is the Army and intelligence agencies—they are the custodians of this system and they are our main targets. The others—whether they are politicians, journalists, or representatives of any segment of society—we examine how they are becoming obstacles for us and then nominate them as enemies.
Some reports indicate that the prime minister’s daughter Maryam is a target. Is this true?
There is no formal statement in this regard, but since she is part of the system, she may be targeted by some other organization. She is not on our hit list. So we can neither deny nor confirm this report. As far as it is possible, we take great care not to target women or children. Malala was made into a symbol so we were compelled to attack her.
Do the peace talks symbolize a victory for the Taliban?
We are a force. Everyone knows our power. If this had been accepted sooner, there would not have been so much bloodshed. The government has now accepted our reality; this is our victory.
Veena Malik has announced she will be a better Muslim. She has also renounced show business. How do you view this development and was there any truth to reports that she had faced threats from the Taliban?
The gates of mercy are open for everyone. If she has really distanced herself from show business then she is an example for all those women who still expose their bodies. I don’t think she was ever any hurdle to us.
The government is holding dialogue with you, but there are dozens of other militant organizations operating in Pakistan. If a deal is reached, will these organizations also abide by the same terms and conditions?
There are not so many groups. The biggest is the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Other groups waging jihad in Pakistan will respect our decisions and follow our accords.
Will the Pakistani Taliban distance itself from foreign fighters?
They are our Muslim brothers living here with their women and children. They are not directly wanted by the Pakistani government, but some foreign governments are pressurizing the Pakistani government to hand them over. Mullah Omar gave away the whole of Afghanistan but did not hand over Osama bin Laden. We cannot conceive handing over our brothers for the sake of a few facilities. They are part of us, and they will obey the accords we sign.
*This question was earlier published as, ‘Who would be the Amir-ul-Momineen if and when Shariah is imposed?’ The correction has been made on the basis of the Pakistani Taliban’s request.