A leading newspaper of Pakistan Daily Times, the owner of which is the minister in the cabinet of President Pervez Musharraf has discussed the issue in its editorial. The government says the ceasefire announced by Baitullah Mehsud's Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was unilateral but it is still ready to hold talks with him. There are reports that secret negotiations were held which produced the ceasefire "that would include the tribal belt along the Afghan border and the restive Swat region". No one knows what the terms of the expected negotiations are going to be. The last time the truce was made in 2006 it got Pakistan nothing and exacerbated the war in Afghanistan. Another truce in 2005 had played right into the hands of the militants and allowed them to regroup and consolidate.
The PPP has condemned the talks. "The government is holding talks with the man blamed by it for the killing of Benazir Bhutto", says Mr Asif Zardari. Mr Mehsud was caught talking on the phone about the suicide-bombing plan that killed Bhutto, and militants nabbed since in Dera Ismail Khan have confessed to being a part of the assassination plan and have pointed the finger at him. Ms Bhutto's own memoir has accused the government of having "acquired" the services of Al Qaeda-linked terrorists for launching terrorist attacks on her.
The United States is leery of the ceasefires that Pakistan tends to negotiate with the terrorists. It says the last time a truce was agreed in North Waziristan it did not redound to the advantage of Pakistan and actually led to an escalation of trouble in Afghanistan. The ISAF-NATO forces there were consequently brought under pressure. Washington is thinking more in terms of fighting the likes of Baitullah Mehsud to the end and wants the Pakistan army to acquire special training for fighting the new kind of war it is facing in the Tribal Areas. Therefore if there are negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud in the offing, the West will watch them with great anxiety.
Baitullah Mehsud's own assertion to Al Jazeera TV is that he created his TTP to unite the Taliban in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there are more people in Pakistan who believe him than outside of Pakistan. When he says he didn't kill Ms Bhutto because TTP doesn't mess with women, people believe him rather the government which has caught a number of killers traced to him. No one cares to remember that the Taliban have targeted women in and outside the Tribal Areas, closing down their schools, threatening them for not wearing the sort of hijab they enforce, and have actually bombed girls educational institutions. He is definitely not a very straightforward man if that is the yardstick for negotiations with him.
As far as the PPP is concerned his Tehreek is a rebellion against the state and he should be treated as the assassin of Ms Bhutto. That is surely what the government of Pakistan should do, but facts on the ground militate against this kind of "police" action. The state lost the upper hand in the Tribal Areas and was not even sure it had to save the territory from being lost to warlords when it first approached the developing situation in the Tribal Areas. The army prevailed in 2004 and then strangely agreed to a peace deal in 2005. The peace collapsed and the war escalated till in 2007 the army suffered the capture of 242 of its troops by Baitullah Mehsud's ragtag army. There were rumours that Baitullah Mehsud himself had been bought off with cash in the early days of uprising, but that he reneged on his side of the bargain.
Baitullah Mehsud's claim that he has united the Taliban is not true at all. Because of his violent tactics many warlords in North Waziristan and even Mehsud sub-tribes are keeping away from him. The fallout that Islamabad is getting comes from the displaced population of South Waziristan that has been forced to take refuge in such neighbouring areas as Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. They have quit their homes not only because of the crossfire and collateral damage but also because they are fed up with him. His violence has apparently aroused anger in the stony breast of Mullah Umar, the absconding leader of the Afghan Taliban, although one may ask why it took him so long to condemn his lieutenant.
There is speculation that the coming negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud may involve a bargain over the coming elections, that he should let the country have the polls without suicide-bombings for something that Islamabad may offer him in return. (PMLN leader Mr Nawaz Sharif has already cancelled his Liaquat Bagh rally after being threatened.) But such a deal will not be to the advantage of Pakistan in the long run as it might allow the warlord to regroup and consolidate his terrorist network and present a much bigger and more difficult challenge to the new elected government.