As reports are pouring in from Kabul about peace talks between a Pakistani Pakhtun tribal delegation and the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), no clear deal has so far been struck other than arriving at a ceasefire. Nevertheless, there are media reports that an agreement has been reached between the two sides. However, some reports reveal that there is still a deadlock.
This seems to be the case as Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, while owning the peace talks, said that the final approval for any deal would be given by the country’s parliament. Earlier, the government of Pakistan admitted that talks for peace with the TTP were taking place. Although the government is not directly engaged in talks, the tribal delegation comprising all seven tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) straddling along the Afghanistan border are a part of the delegation. The team is led by Senator Saleh Shah and include many important personalities, like former KP Governor Shaukatullah, Adviser to the KP Chief Minister on Information Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif.
Whether the talks between the tribal delegation and the TTP are ultimately successful would depend upon a number of factors. However, prima facie, any negotiations with the TTP are going to be very difficult and may be inconsequential in the final analysis. Sources in the Pakistan delegation revealed that a deal with the TTP was most likely to be finalized in the short run. However, nothing could be said with certainty how long the truce may last. Last year also, ceasefire arrangements were made between the two sides in November. However, the truce could not last long, primarily because of the demands of the TTP, which are ghastly and like compromising on the sovereignty of the state.
However, there are still chances of a deal between the tribal delegation acting on behalf of the Pakistan government and the TTP. As a confidence building measure, Pakistan has set free several jailed TTP commanders. They include highly wanted Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan, the duo which were once the symbol of fear in Swat during the TTP occupation of the scenic district of KP in 2009. It is important to note that the TTP had demanded the release of 104 arrested commanders and foot soldiers. There are no details how many of them have been freed so far but at least more than a couple of dozen are no more in the custody of the government. However, any deal between the two sides, as mentioned above, would not last long. This is because of the other key conditions of the TTP. These conditions include the declaration of Shariah in Pakistan, at least in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region, merged in 2018 through the 25th Constitutional Amendment with the province. The most concerning condition is to remove the barbed fencing placed by Pakistan on its border with Afghanistan at the cost of martyrdom of scores of its security officials and years of hard work and billions of rupees of tax money.
Another important demand of the TTP is to revoke the merger of FATA with KP. Yet another demand is the withdrawal of most of the military personnel from the tribal districts and Malakand division. All of these are very stringent demands which the state of Pakistan could hardly accept.
Insofar as the demand for the declaration of Shariah in Pakistan and the tribal districts is concerned, constitutionally Shariah is Pakistan’s law. However, the problem with the demand of the TTP is that it is unacceptable because the group wants its own brand of ‘Shariah’ to be imposed on others. However, most of the people in Pakistan and KP do not acknowledge the TTP idea of ‘Shariah’ as valid and thus enforceable. In fact, the enforcement of Shariah under pressure from the TTP would be tantamount to complete surrender by state authorities before the deadliest terrorist-militant group in the history of Pakistan. Demanding imposing of ‘Shariah’ by the TTP is a stratagem on part of the group leadership. The foremost aim by making the demand is to tell the people that its militancy and terrorism has been for Shariah. Secondly, once Shariah is imposed in the tribal regions, it would legitimize the movement of the Pakistani Taliban and provide them with a launching pad to get its ranks reinforced and prepared for a new wave of militancy to replicate the same model in the rest of Pakistan. Thus, the demand is only self-motivated and has nothing to do with the issues and problems of Pakistanis.
The government has rejected the TPP demand in the past, considering it impractical and illogical since Pakistan is a country dominated by Muslims and the government cannot formulate any law that is against the Quran and Sunnah, as enshrined in Pakistan’s Constitution.
The demand for revoking the merger of FATA with KP is otherwise a sound one because the aim of the change was to mainstream and develop the region. It has not seen any significant progress in the last four years since the merger came into effect. Instead, the situation has deteriorated in the tribal districts. On the other hand, FATA’s merger with KP has in fact slowed down the progress of the whole province, where infrastructure generally is in bad shape and most people’s life has become miserable. But the problem is that the TTP demand, despite ostensibly reasonable, is in fact mala-fide. The fact of the matter is that the demand is mainly of Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who has never accepted former FATA’s merger with the province. The basic reason is that the JUI-F has been a dominant political group in the tribal region and always won votes by manipulating the religious sentiments of an extremely conservative society. After the merger, other mainstream political parties have made inroads in the tribal region which has greatly affected the JUI-F. Importantly, it has been the JUI-F that has been on the forefront to hold talks with the TTP because most of the latter’s leaders have been associated with the JUI-F. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why the PML-N and the Prime Minister Shehabaz Sharif-led regime, including 13 anti-PTI political parties, have started new efforts for a peace deal with the TTP. This is despite the fact that all these parties, other than the JUI-F, incisively criticized former PM Imran Khan’s government for holding talks with the TTP in the past. Now the government Jirga is led by JUI-F leader Maulana Saleh Shah from South Waziristan. It is very much possible that at the behest of the JUI-F the TTP has put the condition of revoking the merger of FATA with KP. Although revisiting the merger is extremely necessary for the overall development of KP and the former FATA region and thus for the country, it shall not be done on the demand of the TTP. Interestingly, there seems to be agreement on most of the other conditions between the two sides but the TTP has been adamant that the government must take back the decision of the merger.
At the moment a ceasefire between the government and the TTP is a good development but whatever flexibility the TTP has shown is aimed at buying time to replenish its ranks and regroup itself. Unfortunately, the government also seems to be gaining time by having a ceasefire with the TTP which is not a good omen for Pakistan.