Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who campaigned on a promise to bring peace to Pakistan and said that talking to terrorists could help bring an end to the violence, faces his biggest test yet as his weeks-old government is challenged by a brazen Pakistan Taliban.
The horrific killing of 10 foreign climbers and a Pakistani guide at the base camp of Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth-tallest mountain, will force Mr. Sharif to explain whether he still believes dialogue is possible with a group that has claimed responsibility for the point-blank murder of mountaineers from Nepal, Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and both the U.S. and China – the last two key Pakistani allies.
So far Mr. Sharif has condemned the killings and ordered the arrest of the estimated 20 suspects who are the subject of a manhunt in the country’s mountainous north.
Security analyst Imtiaz Gul said the attack effectively pulled the dialogue option from beneath the Sharif government and that pursuing negotiations in the wake of the Nanga Parbat attack would be a mistake.
“I don’t think the [government] would be doing any service to the state of Pakistan by talking to a small band of criminals. Rather, it would be weakening the state,” said Mr. Gul, executive director of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies.
“Such a move would fill these groups with an unusual and bloated sense of victory over the state. So a state cannot be seen to be cowed down,” added Mr. Gul.
The Pakistan army has been waging a fierce battle in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan to root out the Pakistan Taliban, which must also take cover from unmanned U.S. drones.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban, or Pakistan Taliban, said its group was behind Saturday’s killings, which were carried out at an altitude of 4,200 metres above sea level by attackers disguised as uniformed paramilitary, in retaliation against a U.S. drone strike that killed the group’s number two, Waliur Rehman, in late May.
Drones have also resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians and become a lightening-rod issue.
Many Pakistanis blame the spike in terrorism inside their country on drone strikes, arguing that the strikes are illegal and radicalize ordinary Pakistanis.
“The problem with the drone debate is not that it is unimportant but that it tends to obscure a more fundamental and important question: What to do about the [Pakistan Taliban]?” read an editorial in Dawn newspaper Monday morning.
Mr. Sharif met with his cabinet on Monday to discuss the terrorist attack on the climbers.
But the news agenda in Pakistan 24 hours after the attack was dominated by Mr. Sharif’s announcement in parliament to pursue treason charges against former president Pervez Musharraf, the former army general who ousted Mr. Sharif in a coup in 1999.
During his inaugural address to parliament earlier this month, Mr. Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes without providing any details or significantly addressing U.S. concerns about militants – including the Pakistan Taliban – in the tribal areas.
Instead, Mr. Sharif has been largely focused on spurring economic growth and ending a crippling electricity crisis.