Mr Muhammad Hamza Tanvir graduated from COMSATS University. He has a keen interest in international relations and regional politics.
The news of Pakistan’s negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – also referred to as the Pakistani Taliban – was broken by Prime Minister Imran Khan in his interview with the Turkish state-affiliated TRT World. It left many in shock as the group has done unrepairable damage to the country and has been involved in the mass killing of many civilians. Both sides signed a ceasefire agreement, recently, but the Pakistani Taliban unilaterally announced an end to the ceasefire, blaming the government of Pakistan for adjourning the agreement.
There had been multiple rounds of negotiations between the two sides but all of them were used as a tactic of war. Although the government has supported this move of negotiations with the TTP, too many analysts believe that this move is damaging for the country as the TTP might consider it a weakness of the government. Moreover, Pakistan could also face difficulties in its international dealings as the country is already on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
On the other hand, some hold that a peace deal with the TTP is the need of the hour otherwise it can attack Pakistan by using the Afghan soil and their sleeping cells inside the country. This article sheds light on the factors which led to the creation of the TTP and the previous attempts of negotiations between the terrorist organization and the government of Pakistan.
Taliban in Pakistan: Creation of the TTP
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an alliance of various militant groups which joined hands under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud on 14th December 2007. The main rationale of this unification was to fight Pakistan’s military. TTP is the biggest and deadliest terrorist organization present in Pakistan. The group is closely associated with Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban.
However, its goals slightly differ from that of the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban’s main objective was to combat the US-led coalition forces while the TTP focuses on combatting the Pakistan Army and killing the civilians inside the country, including those who belong to other sects. TTP has also provided shelter to many Al-Qaeda leaders in the past.
South Waziristan is the base of TTP and the organization has three fundamental objectives: to fight the US-led NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan, to establish TTP’s version of a Shariah-based government in Pakistan, and to conduct offensive operations against Pakistan’s military. The organization also seeks to overthrow the democratic government in the country and establish a caliphate.
The group conducted its first suicide attack in the country on 23rd December 2007 on a Pakistan military convoy in Mingora, leaving 13 people martyred and 25 maimed. The organization is an amalgamation of over 40 Islamist and Pashtun tribal groups from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). TTP comprises diverse ethnicity. It includes Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans, and Punjabi militants along with the Pashtun majority.
Punjabi Taliban and the Mehsood group are the most powerful and influential factions within the organization. The latter forms the core of the terrorist organization and focuses on waging war against the military of Pakistan. However, the former is formed by several sectarian groups and is committed to jihad in Kashmir. Similarly, other small factions within the terrorist organization have their agendas in addition to their shared objectives.
Before the official formation of the TTP, many of its members and leaders acted independently in the ex-FATA region to support the Afghan Taliban in their fight with the US-backed NATO forces. Their operations and assistance to the Afghan Taliban were countered by the Pakistan Army when it conducted an operation in the region.
This made these groups coordinate with each other to counter the army and a new alliance emerged in the form of the TTP in 2007 when several internal and external factors forced them to join hands. This nexus killed almost 200 tribal elders to establish its control over the region to act as the de facto leader of the tribes.
Pakistan’s assistance to the US in the Global War on Terrorism, the drone attacks by the USA, and the support of the Indian Intelligence Agency—RAW—to the TTP against the Pakistani state were among the topmost reason behind the formation of the TTP. Ironically, it is now the Pakistan and US relations that are strained because of the TTP. The Lal Masjid operation by the government of Pakistan became the last nail in the coffin and prompted the Pakistani Taliban to declare war against the Pakistani state and military.
TTP started carrying out massive bombing attacks against the Pakistani security forces and also targeted civilians; Pakistan lost thousands of lives. The main leader of the organization, Baitullah Mehsud, died on 5th August 2009 and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud died on 1st November 2013. Mullah Fazlullah was appointed as the new leader of the TTP by the central shura in November 2013.
TTP is also responsible for conducting the deadliest ever massacre in Pakistan, the Army Public School (APS) attack, on 16th December 2014. The attack claimed 149 lives, out of which 132 were children. Since then, Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations and the internal splits have enfeebled the Pakistani Taliban. Mullah Fazlullah’s death in 2018 in a drone strike further weakened the group but the Taliban regime in Kabul has provided a new life to the TTP as the group can use the Afghan soil to conduct operations inside Pakistan.
After the death of Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud was appointed as the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban. He is currently leading the TTP.
Previous Negotiations with the TTP
For the first time, peace talks between the TTP and the government of Pakistan were held in May 2007 when a 9-point peace agreement was signed between Mullah Fazlullah and the Pakistani government. As per this agreement, the government allowed Mullah Fazlullah to deliver his sermons on his FM station.
In September 2007, the local Taliban and the Safi tribe signed another agreement. According to this pact, the TTP promised to abstain from attacking the government installations and security forces in Mohmand Agency. The agreement bound the administration to refrain from any sort of action against the Taliban members who would not breach the agreement and would not destroy peace in the region.
In April 2008, the KPK government, the then NWFP (North-West Frontier Province) government, set up a committee to launch fresh peace dialogue with different militant groups. It also released Sufi Muhammad, chief of the proscribed Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), who had been apprehended for 6 years. His release resulted in a peace deal with the leaders of the banned group who castigated the individuals involved in attacking law enforcement agencies and state institutions.
On the other hand, the tribal leaders of South Waziristan who were involved in brokering a peace agreement between the two sides faced a blow as the TTP chief, Baitullah Mehsud, pulled on the refusal of the government to withdraw forces from the tribal areas contiguous to the Afghan border. Attacks on schools and other buildings continued and fierce clashes erupted again which resulted in the killing of several army personnel.
Pakistan’s military launched a massive operation which resulted in the migration of 60 percent of Swat’s population. In the mid of the very year, the provincial government reached an agreement with the Swat Taliban for the restoration of peace in the region. This pact envisioned the withdrawal of troops from Swat district in different periods and bounded the TTP members from attacking the security forces, government installations, and officials.
The Taliban officials from Darra Adamkhel announced a peace deal in the same month after a six-day long negotiation process when the local administration sent a jirga to the Pakistani Taliban on behalf of the state’s government. All these agreements ended just in a few months. The TTP Swat threatened the state to conduct suicide attacks across the country because according to the group the government failed to fulfill its commitments.
The pact with Sufi Muhammad also met a similar fate. The government and the TNSM group had diversionary views on the process of imposition of Sharia in Swat, despite the promulgation of the controversial Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Kohistan and Malakand division. The state’s military launched Operation Rah-e-Rast, also known as the Swat Operation, in 2009 to clear the valley of Swat from the TTP.
The next round of talks was launched in the year 2011 and was confirmed by the deputy commander of the TTP, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, to Reuters news agency. The TTP commander also claimed that the government has released 145 Taliban members as a goodwill gesture in exchange for a ceasefire pledge by the terrorist group. However, the government of Pakistan did not confirm the negotiations and the TTP also refuted the news of any sort of discussions until the imposition of Sharia.
In 2013, the same scenario occurred but this time the claim of negotiations was made by the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and denied by the TTP leadership. The negotiations between the two sides started in the year 2014 with the assistance of Mufti Sami ul Haq but they fell apart again in June 2014. The government launched Operation Zarb-i-Azb in the same month; the operation weakened the militant group and many of its leaders flew to Afghanistan.
The Recent Negotiations with the TTP
In September 2021, President Arif Alvi suggested that giving amnesty to the members of the proscribed TTP, who were not involved in criminal activities and those who surrendered, could be considered by the government if they agree to adhere to the state’s constitution. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also seconded the idea claiming that the government is ready to pardon those who submit to the constitution of the country.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in November, confirmed that the government was involved in peace talks with the TTP. On 8th November, the information minister of Pakistan, Fawad Chaudhry, announced that a ceasefire agreement had been signed between the two sides with the mediation of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP spokesperson also confirmed a one-month-long truce.
The announcement of this pact by the government faced severe criticism from many people. The parents of the victims of the APS attack were among those who were against these negotiations. They felt this move by the government was a betrayal. Similarly, many analysts claimed that this move is against the interest of the country, and any peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban in which the government surrenders to their unconstitutional demands could rupture the image of the country internationally.
They also hold that any such move can make it difficult for the country to get whitelisted from the FATF. Furthermore, the analysts claim that the signaling for negotiation by the top-level Pakistani official has weakened the position of the country, which I think is not true. On the other hand, government officials and supporters held that a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban is the need of the hour and is in the interest of the country and no country could fight an infinite war.
However, this time the agreement also met the same fate and the negotiations failed. As per the TTP leadership, the government has stepped back from the agreement as the security agencies have conducted raids against the members of the militant organization, and killed and arrested many of its members.
Are Negotiations with TTP Necessary?
If we look at the history of the TTP and its activities in the country, one would think that it should never be given amnesty. However, the fact that no country could fight an infinite war is also true. Even the United States, being the superpower of the world, had to end its war with the Afghan Taliban on the table. Thus, Pakistan could also keep its door open for negotiations with the TTP but within the limits of the constitution.
A peaceful resolution with the Pakistani Taliban could damage the Indian proxy inside Pakistan. If the country fails to secure a peace deal with the TTP, the terrorist organization could use its sleeping cells inside the country to conduct violence. It can also use Afghan soil to conduct terrorist activities in Pakistan. A peace deal with the TTP would make Pakistan concentrate on other issues like public sector development.
Indeed, the TTP is now back to life since the Afghan Taliban established their regime in neighboring Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban are now in a much stronger position than ever. The Taliban Government in Afghanistan may keep saying that they would not allow anyone to use the Afghan soil against its neighboring countries but the truth is that the TTP is its ideological brother and the latter has helped the former in its hard time.
So, pragmatically, one should not take such statements by the Afghan Taliban to be based on truth; rather, they are merely political statements. A peace deal with the TTP within the limitations of the constitution is in favor of Pakistan. However, the government should learn from history that countering the ideology is more important than killing the militants because even if the militants are killed, their narrative remains intact. This results in the persuasion of innocent people towards committing terrorism. Thus, Pakistan’s government should take immediate steps to counter such militant ideologies.
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