In an interview with TRT World, Prime Minister Imran Khan revealed that Pakistan was holding talks with different factions of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The talks, he said, were taking place in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban were acting as mediators. The Prime Minister said certain TTP factions approached the government of Pakistan to sort out matters through negotiations. The Prime Minister said Pakistan would “pardon” those laying down arms.
The PM’s statement immediately sparked a debate in the country with people questioning how the government could forgive those who were involved in heinous terrorist attacks including the APS Peshawar massacre. That prompted Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry to provide a background in a video statement. It was evident from the statement that he was reading from the script and each word was carefully written. This means that the Prime Minister’s statement was not off the cuff but a new policy seeking reconciliation with the banned TTP. The rationale given by the information minister was that TTP terrorists, who were misguided, should be given a second chance. The minister said the state of Pakistan had gone through an enormous ordeal as it sacrificed thousands of lives in the war against terrorism.
“The country has defeated terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda in Pakistan and completely ended India’s conspiracies,” said the information minister. “Now it is time to move forward. State policies are made in a specific background and situation.”
He said there are individuals in various splinter groups of TTP who want to honour their pledge of allegiance to the country. “The principle, which Prime Minister Imran Khan had put forth, is to bring back people, who were derailed from Pakistan, in mainstream life in the purview of our Constitution and law,” the minister emphasised.
Now the question is: what has prompted the government to seek reconciliation with a group that was driven out of the erstwhile tribal areas successfully? Pakistan has asked the Afghan Taliban to take either action or evict the TTP from Afghan soil. Islamabad even handed over a list of wanted men to the Afghan Taliban. But the Taliban have refused to take military action against the TTP and also ruled out the possibility of evicting them. What they offered instead was to mediate between the TTP and Pakistan. In reality the Taliban were giving Pakistan the taste of its own medicine. The Afghan Taliban have taken the same view as Pakistan took with the US when it came to dealing with the insurgent group. The Afghan Taliban told Pakistan that since TTP was not posing a direct threat to Afghanistan, they could only use their influence to facilitate a dialogue. And that was the reason Pakistan began talking to different factions of the TTP. It was the Haqqani network that was playing a key role in those negotiations.
Now what is Pakistan’s strategy? Since talks began with the TTP, Pakistan is working on a plan. First, it is identifying the reconcilable elements within the TTP and its factions. The focus is on the foot soldiers who, for a variety of reasons, joined the terrorist outfits, but are now willing to start a new life. Those foot soldiers will be given amnesty if they renounce violence, lay down arms and commit to the writ of state and constitution. In return, the state of Pakistan will not only rehabilitate them but also offer compensation and jobs in order to bring them to the mainstream. There is a big caveat though: can these negotiations lead to a permanent deal? Past experience shows that such outfits used peace deals only to regroup and remerge later. Hence, for the government, going ahead with this strategy warrants all the care and caution!
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2021.
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