Peace talks between security forces and TTP | By Akbar Jan Marwat

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Peace talks between security forces and TTP

A Report by the United Nations Security Council has only confirmed which many scholars of Afghanistan had already spelled out quite clearly.

The UNSC report has reminded us about the persistent threat which Pakistan’s security forces face from the Afghanistan-based Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and warned that prospects of success of the ongoing peace process are bleak.

The annual report of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee monitoring team noted TTP’s linkages with Afghan Taliban.

It explained how the group benefitted from the fall of Ghani regime last year and developed its relations with other terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan.

Further, according to the report, 4000 fighters of the banned TTP are based in east and south-east areas along Afghanistan-Pakistan border and make up the largest group of foreign fighters based there.

Historically speaking, peace talks between Pakistan and TTP have had a checkered history, with little success.

This time against the odds, for the same inexplicable reasons, it is hoped that the talks would succeed.

Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, because of the independent and autonomous nature of his faction, has been selected to play the role of the mediator.

Forty-two tribal elders from various regions of KP visited Afghanistan for these negotiations.

A majority of these tribal elders were from Waziristan.These tribal elders met leaders of TTP first in Pakthia and then in Kabul.

After the Kabul meeting, the TTP extended the cease-fire between the TTP and the Pak security forces till 30 May.

The first round of talks, held late last year, held a month-long ceasefire, which was broken by the TTP, accusing Pakistan of not keeping the promises.

TTP subsequently resumed attacks against Pakistani security forces. According to statistics tabulated by the “Pakistani Institute of Peace Studies”, most of these attacks were against security personnel.

These attacks were more than 46 in number, in which more than 79 people lost their lives.

On March 30, TTP, emulating the Afghan Taliban’s war strategy against the US forces; declared their own spring offensive against Pakistani security forces.

Pakistan’s main and clear demand in these peace talks with the TTP was to ask them to lay down their arms and surrender to the Pakistani authorities in return for a possible amnesty and rehabilitation of the militants in their respective areas.

There is, however, a lot of opposition to this move in the former tribal areas from where these militants belong.

The TTP on the other hand, asks for the release of its prisoners and withdrawal of cases against them.

And the enforcement of Sharia in the formal tribal areas and the Malakand division. The Pakistani authorities, on the face of it, completely calls these demands as unacceptable, as accepting them would be tantamount to capitulating to the wishes of the TTP.

Yet the Pakistani authorities are engaged with the TTP in further negotiations.

Sources privy to the talks process claim that till date, about 30 TTP fighters have been released.

Most of the TTP fighters have been from the former tribal areas and Malakand Division.

Informed sources claim that in spite of propaganda on the social media, die hard TTP militants, who have been sentenced like Mehmood Khan and Muslim Khan have not been released.

According to security forces, a 130-member jirga of tribal elders will, this time, negotiate with the TTP along with the elders of the erstwhile tribal agencies, elders of Malakand and Swat divisions have also been asked to join the tribal jirga.

The reason for this decision, is that during the fight against terrorism in Malakand and Swat, many TTP Commanders from these areas also took refuge in Afghanistan along with their Amir, Mullah Fazllullah.

The tribal elders of Swat and Malakand are asked to talk to TTP Commanders from their respective areas.

An effort is, perhaps, made to resolve the conflict with TTP, a la Malakand style dialogue between the ANP government and the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM).

The particular agreement failed disastrously, with the TTP taking a few more districts in the confusion during the dialogue.

The only favorable aspect of this dialogue was the turning away of the public perception from the TTP for bilaterally violating their agreement with the government.

The Pakistani authorities, perhaps, hope that in spite of their engagement with TTP, if an agreement is not reached, this might provide a reason to the Afghan Taliban for distancing themselves from the TTP; and even contemplate taking some steps against them.

In my opinion, this can only be wishful thinking as the TTP and Afghan Taliban share the same DNA and any action against TTP by Afghan Taliban would be next to impossible.

For this inaction against the TTTP, there are some genuine compulsions for the Afghan Taliban also.

Terrorist attacks against security forces in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa have continued in spite of the cease-fire by TTP.

Several police and intelligence gathering officials have been killed, in spite of these so-called ceasefires.

The problem is that besides TTP, some other militant groups are also engaged against our security forces.

The most lethal of the militant organizations besides the TTP, is the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP).

The murders of the police and intelligence officers mentioned above have been claimed by ISK.

The UN report has warned, “The group (TTP) is focused on a long-term campaign against the Pakistani State”, which implies “that ceasefire deals have a limited chance of success”.

It is important to note that the TTP has recently been reinvigorated with the coming home of 13 splinter groups.

Therefore, the TTP feels that maintaining a hard-line position in the talks with Pakistani authorities will help keep the various groups of TTP united.

The UN report that I have been alluding to from the start of this column, observes, “As compared to other foreign militant groups, TTP was the biggest beneficiary of last year’s Taliban takeover and used this opportunity for conducting attacks and operations in Pakistan.

’’ “TTP also continues to exist as a standalone force, rather than feeling pressure to merge its fighters into Afghan Taliban units, as is the prospects for most foreign terrorist fighter”, it further said.

According to the very latest news which just came in, the ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan security forces has been extended indefinitely.

Lastly, these peace talks should be conducted through Parliament of Pakistan, for the results achieved through these talks to be sustainable.

—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.