On June 2, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced an indefinite ceasefire with the Pakistani government, which confirmed it had initiated peace talks with the banned group.
This is a decisive step for the Pakistani military establishment. If the talks are successful, many potential threats will be averted. A peace agreement would help to stabilize security, but for that the previous security policies will have to be abandoned. If Pakistan intends to play a new proxy game, it would surely plunge its military into a quagmire.
On condition of anonymity, three people involved in the peace talks with the TTP told me that military officers had pressed them for the withdrawal of only one demand, the restoration of former status of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where the president of Pakistan was the chief executive authority and the region was administered under the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR). The rest of the demands of the TTP will be looked at by the military itself.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has also expressed concerns on negotiations with the TTP. He said talks with the Taliban should be held within the framework of the constitution by taking Parliament into confidence.
The PPP has issued show-cause notices to party leaders including the federal minister of overseas Pakistani and human resource development, Sajid Tori, and Akhwanzada Chitan as to why they went to negotiate with the TTP without the permission of the party leadership.
“The ultimate resolution lies in the political and diplomatic domain and never in the military domain,” Omar Mahmood Hayat, a retired three-star general, told me. He added that if the state feels that the time is ripe for such an initiative, then – safeguarding all primary interests – it must engage all groups that feel marginalized and bring them back into the national mainstream through dialogue.
Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Afghan Taliban’s interior minister and head of the Haqqani Network, told local news outlets, “We can ask the Pakistani Taliban for talks, but we cannot force them to negotiate. The TTP has made many sacrifices for us in the war against the United States and NATO. They have sided with us in difficult situations, so we can ask them for talks, but cannot put pressure on them.”
In response to my question in the context of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s statement, a senior journalist of Geo News, Saleem Safi, said there was no difference between the TTP and the TTA (Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan). They are two sides of the same coin. The Afghan Taliban will never take any step that may displease the Pakistani Taliban.
Previous peace talks between Pakistan and the Taliban have always failed. On April 24, 2004, the Pakistani military entered the “Shakai agreement” with militant commander Nek Muhammad Wazir. The basic condition of the agreement was that no one would allow foreign terrorists to operate in the tribal areas. Later on, the agreement failed, and Naik Muhammad was killed in a drone attack on June 18, 2004. Baitullah Mehsud began to lead the group.
In September 2006, the efforts of the Afghan Taliban leaders Mullah Dadullah (1966-2007) and Jalaluddin Haqqani (1939-2018) led to the “Waziristan Pact” between Pakistan and militants, which was extended by Mullah Muhammad Omar himself. As a result of the agreement, the Pakistani government released a number of militants. The US criticized the agreement and called it a brazen surrender before the militants.
Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike on August 5, 2009. In September 2009, Hakimullah Mehsud of the TTP was elected as the new amir, who paid special attention to suicide attacks. The period from 2009 to 2013 was the worst for suicide attacks in Pakistan.
Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike in November 2013, and the new chief became Mullah Fazlullah, alias Mullah Radio. Fazlullah was killed in June 2018 in Kunar province of Afghanistan. Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud was elected as the new amir by the Taliban Shura (Council), and he is still in charge of the TTP.
The Pakistani military was confident enough that the coming into power of the Taliban in Afghanistan will help to counter the TTP operating in the tribal areas from Afghan land. The cold response of the Afghan Taliban made the Pakistani military establishment cognizant that the TTP will not be pressurised and countered by the Afghan Taliban in order to stop terror activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban also gained a new impetus. About 2,300 TTP fighters were released from custody last year after the Afghan Taliban seized Bagram Airbase from the Americans.
After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, the TTP intensified cross-border attacks in Pakistan, and began expanding ties with other banned organizations. Some sources even say that the TTP is also providing guerrilla warfare training to the Baloch Liberation Army in Balochistan. And the two groups have back-door contacts with each other.
Pakistan’s major security concern is the possible emergence of Islamic State–Khorasan Province (IS-KP). If the peace talks fail to end insurgency, and the TTP remains active in the tribal areas, IS-KP and other militant groups will no doubt benefit from the situation, creating more security threats for Pakistan. And for the TTP too, there will be no better option, but to join hands with the IS-KP to fight against the Pakistani military.
Former Lieutenant-General Asif Yaseen told me that along with peace talks with the TTP, the government of Pakistan needs to focus on infrastructure development and education and should give powers to the local bodies. That strategy would help to create a diversified and conducive environment, so that even if negotiations fail, it will be difficult for the TTP to create space for destructive and terror-oriented activities in the tribal areas.