MIRAMSHAH: In a dramatic move, the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced on Monday a month-long unilateral ceasefire, hours after two roadside bombings killed 13 people during a polio vaccination campaign in the Khyber tribal region.

A TTP spokesman said in a statement released to the media that the ceasefire was being declared with all seriousness and good intentions.

The spokesman expressed the hope that the government would reciprocate the offer.

“The senior leadership directs all constituents and groups to respect and fully abide by the ceasefire declaration and restrain themselves from all kinds of jihadi activities,” Shahidullah Shahid said in his statement.

He said his organisation took all decisions with full agreement of its shura and endorsement of its chief.

“The government has responded positively to our proposals to end the deadlock in negotiations and move towards a ceasefire. And we have also been assured with full confidence of the implementation of our proposals,” he said.

According to Reuters, senior Taliban leaders said they had announced the ceasefire after receiving assurances from the government that they would not be attacked. “Senior officials of the federal government promised us that the government and its law enforcement agencies will not take any action against our people,” a Taliban leader said.

Sources privy to the behind-the-scenes negotiations told Dawn the TTP had set two conditions for ceasefire: release of all elders, women and children in government custody; and a demilitarised safe zone for direct negotiations.

About the first condition, the sources said, the TTP had been asked to submit a list and if its claim turned out to be true, the government would look into it on humanitarian grounds.

The military has denied having any elder, woman or child in its custody.

“The issue was discussed with the prime minister and he said this was a humanitarian issue and could be looked into,” the sources said.

The ceasefire had full backing of the Afghanistan-based TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah, Punjabi militant leader Asmatullah Moawiya and Mehsud ‘commander’ Khan Said alias Sajna, they added.

The sources said that Mohmand TTP chief Mohammad Wali alias Khalid Khurasani had also agreed to follow the ceasefire announcement after initially showing reluctance.

“That’s why it took them four days to make a formal announcement,” the sources said.

The announcement has paved the way for the resumption of peace talks between two committees representing the TTP and the government.

The talks were suspended following a disclosure about the execution of 23 men of the Frontier Corps on Feb 17. The TTP said it had killed the personnel to avenge alleged killing in custody of its own men by security agencies.

The coordinator of the government’s four-member negotiating committee, Irfan Siddiqui, welcomed the announcement and expressed hope that the stalled negotiations would resume soon. “The committee will meet in a couple of days to discuss the ceasefire announcement,” he said.

But a member of the committee who played a key role in breaking the stalemate said it was time the government panel was disbanded. “We have played our part. Now it is time for the army to sit in the driver’s seat and carry forward the negotiations,” retired Maj Aamir told Dawn.

He said that the four-member committee had lost its utility and since sensitive and complicated issues were expected to come up during the next round, it was better for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to constitute a new body comprising Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan, the governor and the chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a senior representative of the army.

“I will recommend to the prime minister to disband our committee. We have lost our utility and effectiveness. The road ahead is tough and complicated. A new committee should be formed to should hold negotiations with utmost secrecy and not play to the media,” he said.

Mr Siddiqui, however, said the suggestion by the former spy was his personal opinion. “We may discuss this in our next meeting and if all four members think we need to disband, then there will be no issue.”

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam have welcomed the Taliban’s announcement.

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