The release of a video message by the Punjab chapter of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), declaring their intention to disarm and commitment to preaching Islam in a peaceful manner, has caused an uproar.
The statement by the leader of the banned group, Asmatullah Muaviya, calls upon other militant groups to follow suit and also calls upon the government to allow the Taliban, who fled to Afghanistan as a result of Operation Zarb-i-Azb, to return and restart their lives anew.
To get to grips with the significance of this development, Dawn spoke to retired Brigadier Asad Munir, a defence analyst and a former senior operative with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Q. Why do you think TTP Punjab decided to release this message at this time? Is this going to effect operation Zarb-i-Azb?
A. This message is a manifestation of the success of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Asmatullah Muaviya, who appeared in the video message, had proposed peace talks between the Taliban and the government in 2013. The first condition he had laid down for the talks was the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan. But now the militant group has realised that they have become weak and their influence has decreased, so they have decided to peacefully propagate Islam. The TTP Punjab was already weak and this only further destroyed their image by making their weakness apparent.
Operation Zarb-i-Azb will go on as planned. The armed forces have decided to take down all terrorists. Regardless of their decision to disarm, TTP Punjab remains a banned organisation and their leaders have criminal charges against them and they should face the law in court.
Q. Do you think this is an isolated group or does Muaviya speak for the Fazlullah group as well? Could this be a sign of further fragmentation within the TTP?
A. This group, which is known as TTP Punjab, was formed when the government declared these militants terrorists after 9/11. They had, at that time, moved to Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to seek refuge. But the locals in these areas called them ‘Punjabis’ and they were differentiated from the other Taliban. If you look at all the attacks that have taken place on important military installations, such as the GHQ and Mehran Base, they all were conducted by the Punjabi faction of the TTP. Even the attacks that took place in urban areas were carried out by this group. They form the front face of the main TTP, who are Pashtuns and fight in the hilly regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. So, no, this is not part of the fragmentation of the TTP.
Q. How do you think the government should react to the request about allowing the Taliban, who have fled to Afghanistan, to come back and resettle?
A. One thing needs to be understood, the government cannot just go ahead and kill all Taliban because most of the youth among the banned organisations have been brainwashed and misled. Some are merely participating in the organisation out of fear and not out of choice.
Just like the rehabilitation of the Taliban that took place after the operation in Swat, the government should open rehabilitation centres for all such members of the TTP who wish to disarm and lead a normal life.
However, leaders like Khalid Khurasani, who have confessed to criminal activities and are still threatening the sovereignty of Pakistani state by claiming that they want to establish a caliphate, should not be spared and must be tried according to law.
Published in Dawn, September 14th , 2014