NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 05

No point to talk to TTP

As anticipated, the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has announced an end to its ceasefire with the government of Pakistan, which set the alarm bells ringing in the country of another wave of terror attacks, which in fact has commenced very strongly. Only a couple of days after the TTP ended the ceasefire, it carried out a suicide attack in Quetta, killing four people including civilians and police personnel. The group has also stepped up attacks on police personnel in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The militant group had entered into an indefinite ceasefire with Pakistani authorities in June this year. However, since then there have been attacks from the group and military operations from state forces. The TTP ended the ceasefire citing violations from the government on terms of the cessation of hostilities. “As military operations are ongoing against mujahideen in different areas, it is imperative for you to carry out attacks wherever you can in the whole country,” the group said in a statement. It added, “We submit to the people of Pakistan that we have repeatedly warned you and continued to be patient so that the negotiation process is not sabotaged at least by us, but the army and intelligence agencies do not stop and continue attacks, so now our retaliatory attacks will also start across the country.”

It is important to note that the status of the negotiations and ceasefire has been quite ambiguous on the one hand, and tricky on the other. In particular, after the killing of top TTP commander Omar Khalid Khurasani, the mastermind of the 2014 Peshawar school attack and a part of the group’s negotiating team along with two other commanders, Mufti Hassan and Hafiz Dawlat Khan, on August 8 in Paktika province of Afghanistan, the TTP is suspicious of Pakistan’s role. The killed commanders were among several militant leaders who had joined the Islamic State (IS) or locally named Daesh-e Khurasan in 2014, just a week after “successful” talks with a Pakistani delegation resulting in an indefinite ceasefire. Khorasani’s killing severely dented the peace process between the two sides. In early September, there were reports that the Taliban had renounced the ceasefire but sources said that it was still there but attacks were also ongoing in the name of “defensive” action by the group, which continues to kill Pakistan security forces and police personnel almost every day.

The main issues between the TTP and Pakistan are conditions of the group from Islamabad. The conditions include: enforcement of Shariah in Pakistan, particularly in the merged districts; reversing of the merger of the districts and restoring their former status of British colonial-era FATA (1901-2018); withdrawal of all Pakistan regular forces from former FATA; permission to TTP commanders and fighters to return along with their arms and ammunition to their areas and homes in Pakistan; freeing of all jailed men of the group. Most of them are unacceptable demands for the government of Pakistan, which asked the group to: surrender all their arms and ammunition; pledge to abide by the Pakistani Constitution and laws and face court cases filed against its men.

The TTP, the largest militant-terrorist network of the country, has been engaged in negotiations with the government since early 2021. There have been many ups and downs in the talks since then between the government of Pakistan, spearheaded by its security establishment, and the TTP, resulting in a couple of ceasefires. However, the ceasefires could not last long. The group was formed in 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan district. It brought together all shades of fighters wanted to help the Afghan Taliban against US-NATO forces in Afghanistan and launch a terrorist movement against Pakistan for being a part of America’s global war on terror waged by ‘infidels against Islam.’ Within months of its formation, the TTP was accused of killing former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto by then President of Pakistan Gen. Pervez Musharraf. However, Baituallah denied his involvement. Since then, the TTP has been on the rise and rampage launching hundreds of armed attacks, most importantly its signature suicide attacks, car bombs and beheadings. During 2007 and 2016, the TTP had killed more than 70,000 Pakistani civilians and security personnel. During the time, the entire FATA region sprawled over an area of 27,000 kilometers, particularly Waziristan districts, were its virtual states. From there, it expanded to the adjoining KP province, then called the North West Frontier Province (NWFP till 2010) and at one moment for several months controlled the scenic Swat district, just 100 kilometers away from Islamabad. However, as a result of a massive military offensive, Swat was recaptured in August 2009, but at a cost of displacement of 3. 5 million people of the district and surrounding regions (Malakand division). But FATA remained under the TTP for long. In 2014, it carried out a loathsome attack on the Army Public School, killing more than 150 children and staff members. Consequently, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other political leaders, including Imran Khan, whose PTI party had a government in KP, decided to enforce a comprehensive anti-terrorism and counter-extremism policy, known as the National Action Plan (NAP). Under the plan, a massive military operation was launched against the TTP resulting in its defeat and reclaiming of territory from it by 2016. Its leadership and fighters fled to Afghanistan and joined forces with their spiritual motivators, the Afghan Taliban, to fight the US-NATO forces. The Afghan Taliban welcomed the Pakistani Taliban, because of their common ethnicity, Pashtun, and their great need for fighters to replenish their ranks. One opinion is that the Pakistan security establishment deliberately created conditions to push the TTP to Afghanistan to strengthen the Afghan Taliban against the US-NATO forces. The TTP since then played an important part in the Afghan Taliban victory against the Afghanistan state forces under President Ashraf Ghani. Therefore, when the Afghan Taliban recaptured Afghanistan in August 2021, after 20 years of presence of the US-NATO forces as a result of a deal with Washington in February 2020, it set free hundreds of TTP men from Afghan jails. Moreover, the Afghan Taliban regime provided a free field to the group in Afghanistan to carry out anti-Pakistan activities.

On the prodding of the Afghan Taliban, Pakistan started negotiations with the TTP last year, which resulted in a one-month ceasefire in November 2021, which could not last longer. The group kept on attacking security forces and the latter also targeted the militants in parts of former FATA. Negotiations started again on the request of the Afghan Taliban in May resulting in an indefinite ceasefire when over 50 members of a Pakistani team including top clerics, Pashtun tribal leaders, government officials and advisors, led by former Corps Commander Lt-Gen (Retd) Faiz Hameed, held talks with TTP commanders in Kabul and other Afghan provinces. The Pakistani clerics convinced the TTP that Pakistan is a Muslim state and therefore Jihad is un-Islamic to be waged there. However, there was no breakthrough in the talks in the shape of a concrete written agreement between the two sides due to tough conditions of the TTP and the government’s inflexibility.

Most demands of the TTP are unacceptable and it has not been ready to budge on any of them. While the state and its forces have been able to defeat the group with great efforts, therefore, there is no point in negotiating with the group or expect talks to be successful. Just holding talks with the TTP on the prodding of the Afghan Taliban, which also do not look at Pakistan with much favor, is to invite trouble, which Pakistan has already done. The way forward is to have a stern stance against the group but it needs political stability.