NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 43

Complex talks with TTP fail

Of late, the banned militant-terrorist group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has yet again announced revoking its ceasefire with the state as it appeared that the one-year-long cessation of hostilities have ended for good. The TTP has called off another truce with the Pakistani government, accusing Islamabad of breaching an Afghan Taliban-brokered accord.

The terror outfit made the announcement by claiming responsibility for three attacks on security officials in flood-hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The recent terror incidents surfaced months after both sides agreed to continue peace talks.

As soon as the TTP called off the ceasefire, its spokesperson Mohammad Khorasani accepted responsibility for an attack on a policeman in Dera Ismail Khan, martyring a police official in Lakki Marwat and another attack in Peshawar in which one security official was martyred.

Other reasons which the TTP has cited for the end to the ceasefire include Pakistan’s lackadaisical approach to make the negotiations a success, refusal to release prisoners, recapturing freed militants, restarting military operations, and lack of communication between the two sides. However, TTP chief Noor Wali Mehsud said negotiations would continue as it was a part of Sharia law, however, he stressed an armed struggle, saying the future course of action would be announced later. However, it appears that despite some more efforts to restore talks between the two sides now the TTP has no other option but to keep on fighting and the same is the way forward for the Pakistani forces to eventually mop up the militants.

It is important to note that two Pakistan delegations had visited Kabul last month to break the stalemate, however, the TTP refused to withdraw from its key demands: to remain a militant group and its refusal to give up the demand of the 2018 merger of the former tribal region (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

It appears that the underlying reason for the end of the ceasefire was the August 7 killing of three of its top commanders in Afghanistan, including the architect of the December 16, 2014, APS attack, Omar Khalid Khorasani. The other two killed commanders were identified as Hafiz Dawlat and Mufti Hassan.

Three senior commanders of the TTP have been killed in a blast in southeastern Afghanistan, dealing a heavy blow to the militant group. Pakistan did not claim killing the three commanders and it could not as an unannounced military operation on the territory of a sovereign country is a breach of international law. However, the TTP, according to sources, believed that Pakistan was behind the killings. It is important to note that Khorasani was even a part of negotiations from the TTP side when they took place days before his killing. The three militants were eliminated when they were traveling in the Birmal district of the Afghan province of Paktika and their car hit a roadside mine on the evening of August 7. Birmal is quite at a distance from Kabul and it suggests how open a field the TTP has got in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. It was also expected that once hardliners, like Khorasani, are taken out then the TTP would be compelled to soften up its stance in negotiations. However, this has not happened and it has revoked its ceasefire with the government. This also suggests that the TTP wants to fight on.

The end of the ceasefire demonstrates how feeble and misconstrued it was to take the ownership of the negotiations process with the TTP by the government of Pakistan. While talks between the government and the TTP had been going on for a while, the former only a month back took their ownership. Interestingly, the very basis upon which the security establishment had convinced the parliament to have talks with the banned group was quite thought-provoking. According to media reports, the military high command in an in-camera briefing on July 4 had informed the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) that the Afghan Taliban had conveyed to them that unless Islamabad talks with its Taliban, based in Afghanistan, there were strong chances of them joining forces with the Islamic Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the global militant-terrorist outfit’s regional chapter. Once both groups (TTP and IS-K) come together, it would pose a grave threat to the security of Pakistan and Afghanistan or for that matter the wider region, it was said.

Insofar as the IS-K and TTP joining forces are concerned, there has always been a possibility of such an eventuality. There are several reasons for it. Both groups are based in Afghanistan and they have a strong working relationship. Secondly, both IS-K and TTP believe in global militancy. Thirdly, they also have strong doctrinal association. Fourthly, both are stateless entities with the former receiving severe drubbing in its heartland, Iraq and Syria while the latter driven out of Pakistan. However, the problem is that the TTP has been the deadliest terrorist-militant group of Pakistan, which has the blood of 70,000 Pakistanis on its hand, including mostly innocent civilians, particularly students of the Army Public School Peshawar. So how come the state could talk with such a terrorist group when it has not renounced militancy and made some very dangerous demands, including the reversion of the merger of the tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

When the parliament gave a go-ahead for talks with the TTP, we had analysed and forecast: “The process of talks would be very complex and extremely difficult to move forward, unless the TTP gives up its arms and demands or otherwise the state may surrender. Yet another very important aspect to the fear that the TTP may join forces with the IS-K is that the Afghan Taliban consider the IS-K a bigger threat than the TTP. But the thing which is quite troubling for Pakistanis is that for us the TTP has been more deadly than the IS-K, which has had only a footprint in Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban may be right in their own calculation as they have been fighting the IS-K in Afghanistan but for them the TTP has been brethren-in-arm who have been instrumental in their wins against the Afghan national forces and NATO in the past. One thinks that the talks between the TTP and the Pakistan government would not move meaningfully forward.”

This is exactly what has happened today with the TTP renouncing the ceasefire as the very nature, composition and history of the group has been such that any talks with it ought to be complex. Therefore, the state has to come up with a new strategy to deal with the threat.