In a reversal of the policy adopted by the previous Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of talks with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the coalition government would quit “the policy of appeasement” of terrorists, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Dadu district of Sindh, Bilawal drew distinction between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, saying that the former was a “reality” with “a history” of existence, while the later was nothing but a terrorist organisation.
He slammed the PTI government for taking an “idiotic” decision of not only embracing the terrorists living in Pakistan, but also welcoming those who were staying in Afghanistan. He accused the previous government of making the people feel that the country had lost the war against terrorism.
“At the NSC’s [National Security Committee] meeting we have decided that we won’t accept Imran Khan’s experiment and policy of appeasement and that we will establish writ of the Constitution and action will be taken against terrorists,” the foreign minister told journalists.
The NSC is the highest forum on national security and foreign policy. The forum reviewed the Afghan strategy, particularly efforts to seek a peace deal with the banned TTP in a meeting on Monday, chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and attended by the top military brass and key federal ministers.
After revisiting the strategy pursued by the PTI government, the NSC took some major policy decisions, seeking reversal of some of the flawed plans. A source in Islamabad told The Express Tribune that the NSC decided “there will be no longer any dialogue” with the TTP.
The decision to pull out of the peace process was taken because of the negative fallout of seeking talks with the TTP. The source said that Pakistan would now convey its decision to the Afghan government that the country would no longer seek any talks with the TTP.
There was realisation among the NSC members that the TTP only used talks to regroup. Bilawal claimed that Taliban were taking space under the nose of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. He mentioned Imran’s statement in which the PTI chief had allegedly said that he helped settle 50,000 TTP men in Pakistan.
According to Bilawal, Pakistan had actually won the war against terrorism but still the previous PTI government decided to free imprisoned terrorists, who were allegedly involved in APS [Army Public School] and many other terrorist attacks.
“We achieved something which the US, NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] and the whole world couldn’t achieve in Afghanistan,” he said. “Pakistani soldiers cleared the territories of Swat, North Waziristan, Karachi and Balochistan from the scourge of terrorism.”
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A source familiar with the development told The Express Tribune, the civil and military leadership had now decided to reverse some of the policies pursued by the previous dispensation on Afghanistan and set new “red lines” to protect the core national interests.
According to the source, the Afghan Taliban regime would be conveyed in clear terms that Pakistan would not tolerate sanctuaries operating out of Afghanistan. They would be given time to get rid of those sanctuaries, the source said.
Pakistan had pursued direct talks with the TTP after the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul in August 2021. Talks did produce some results initially when the TTP announced a ceasefire in November that year and then agreed to an indefinite truce in June last year.
Though the Afghan Taliban were also in favour of talks, it was Pakistan’s decision to seek a peace deal with the TTP. “We could have opted for other options but the decision makers at that time felt it was the best decision,” said a senior figure in Islamabad, while requesting anonymity.
The official admitted that it would be a challenge now to walk away from talks mediated by the Afghan Taliban. But the official was confident that Pakistan would convince the Taliban regime about the policy shift vis-à-vis the TTP.
In return for truce in June 2022, Pakistani authorities allowed a number of TTP members to return as part of a confidence-building measure. However, the returning militants later regrouped and started targeting security forces. On November 28, just a day before the change of command at the GHQ, the TTP ended the ceasefire.
Even during the ceasefire period, the number of terrorist attacks had been on the rise. The group even took responsibility for the first suicide attack in Islamabad since 2014. The surge in these attacks led Pakistani authorities to revisit its strategy and now concluded that pursuing talks with the TTP was a mistake.
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