Last week, Pakistan and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) signed an agreement on a month-long ceasefire, which can be further extended if agreed upon by both sides.
The Pakistan government has said that the negotiations with the TTP were taking place under the ambit of the Pakistani Constitution. While making the announcement last week, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that the “sovereignty of the state, security, peace in the affected areas, and social and economic stability will be kept in view during the talks with the TTP.”
In a letter signed by its chief, Noor Wali Mehsud, the TTP told its fighters that a “process of talks has been started with the government of Pakistan and to extend the process further, the parties have agreed on a one-month ceasefire…therefore, all the fighters associated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [were] to refrain from any action during the said period.”
Both sides have also confirmed that the Afghan Taliban are mediating the talks. The development is encouraging as far as the return of peace to Pakistan’s tribal areas is concerned.
However, questions regarding the nature and the scope of the talks remain, suggesting that Pakistan’s approach to negotiating with the TTP is a part of the problem rather than the solution.
So far, the terms of the agreement between the two sides are unknown, and it is unclear if Pakistan’s civilian government is even involved in the process as it is country’s military elite that are leading the process.
What Pakistan is willing to offer the group is unclear. Whether the TTP will agree to lay down arms and accept Pakistan’s constitution is doubtful. It appears unlikely that the government will present the ongoing talks in parliament for debate.
The secretive nature of the talks has already made the process controversial. Last week, Pakistan’s top court grilled Prime Minister Imran Khan over the issue. The Supreme Court ordered the federal government to take action against top officials who had shown negligence in the TTP’s attack on the Army Public School in 2014 in which at least 145 people, mostly schoolchildren, were killed.
Referring to the ceasefire agreement reached between the government and the TTP, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed told the prime minister: “You are in power. The government is also yours. What did you do? You brought those guilty to the negotiating table.”
“Where do the intelligence [agencies] disappear when it comes to the protection of their own citizens?” the chief justice asked. “Was a case registered against the former army chief and others responsible?”
Opposition parties have demanded that the government bring the agreement to the parliament for discussion, with some calling for a national referendum on the issue.
However, the government has neither the will nor the legislative clout to bring the issue to the parliament and get it approved in any form.
Moreover, the government’s recent secret deal with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, the opposition’s mounting pressure on the government over rising inflation, and the military’s annoyance with the ruling party regarding issues of governance have left Imran Khan’s regime bitterly divided.
Even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s allies in government are no longer interested in voting on the bills it introduces or in supporting its secret decisions.
In September, Prime Minister Khan said that the government could consider offering amnesty to TTP fighters if they become “normal citizens.” However, he didn’t explain how he expects the killers of thousands of Pakistanis to become normal citizens.
In negotiations with previous governments in the past, the TTP demanded implementation of Sharia in the country’s tribal areas. It is unlikely that the group will give up this demand.
Already, Pakistan is said to have released a number of TTP fighters as part of confidence building measures to push the group toward a ceasefire.
Going by the government’s recent agreement with the TLP, which allowed the proscribed militant group to emerge as a political party, it is possible that Pakistan may end up agreeing to the TTP’s terms related to the implementation of Sharia in tribal areas.
Any such outcome could have major implications for Pakistan as the development would only encourage other banned militant groups to take on the state.
Having the Afghan Taliban mediate between Pakistan and the TTP is another example of the problematic approach. What happens if the Taliban are not able to guarantee the TTP’s conduct toward Pakistan? What if the Taliban start using the TTP to gain leverage over Pakistan? Can Pakistan rely on a militant group to change another militant group’s behavior toward the Pakistani state?
Some analysts have argued that Pakistan’s security establishment believes that it has leverage over the Taliban to force the TTP into making an agreement with Pakistan. This appears to be flawed proposition.
First, it is possible that the TTP would want to sign a ceasefire with Pakistan to appease its hosts in Afghanistan as they are under Islamabad’s pressure. Moreover, the Taliban need Pakistan’s support to push the international community to recognize their regime and attain some sort of economic relief. The group may be motivated by these two challenges to listen to Pakistan, but we cannot be sure how these dynamics will change in six to twelve months. Second, we cannot be sure of the Taliban’s own political future given the economy is in tatters and attacks from the Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) on the Taliban are increasing.
The situation only points toward rising instability along Pakistan’s Afghan border in the coming weeks and months. The last thing Islamabad would want to do is to rely on the Taliban to find solution to its security woes. If anything, this is the best time for Pakistan to force the Taliban to hand over TTPs militants and close their sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
In the past, negotiations with the TTP and its allied groups have never worked. In fact, the development has only allowed the group to come back stronger and attack the Pakistani state with more resolve.
The TTP has killed thousands of Pakistanis, including children. It is improbable that the group would stop such killing unless it is crushed.
The Pakistani state needs to shed the misconception that terrorists can become good citizens or that terrorists can help find solutions to its security crisis. It has never worked and its surely not going to work now.