A representational picture of members of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). — AFP/File

Truce with TTP — will it be different this time around?

Analyst says government once again does not have a policy that is clear of strategic confusion.
Published November 6, 2021

It began as a hint with President Arif Alvi suggesting that the government could consider granting amnesty to members of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Then the foreign minister said the government was open to the possibility. Ultimately, the prime minister acknowledged that talks were being held.

Now, sources say the government and the TTP have reached a tentative agreement to seek broader peace.

The terms are not known, nor is it clear who is leading from the government side. There are questions: will the TTP be amenable to laying down arms? How can a group responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country's history become "normal citizens"? Most importantly, will this truce be any different from ones made in the past?

What are the conditions?

Dawn.com spoke to three analysts and all of them agreed on one thing — what the truce will mean for Pakistan in the time to come depends on its conditions.

Security analyst Muhammad Amir Rana said the talks had been going on for months and an unannounced amnesty was apparently already in place. Some of the group's members who had surrendered earlier did not seem happy with the government. However, they seemed to have reached a consensus, resulting in the truce, and now confidence-building measures were needed.

He recalled that the TTP's main demand during negotiations back in 2008-09 was the enforcement of their interpretation of sharia (Islamic law). Such terms, if agreed to, will have a "very negative impact and be very harmful", he pointed out.

The first phase of talks with the TTP has been completed, he said, noting that the second phase will be "very tough". There will be many challenges, he added.

"The terms [of the truce] are not very clear," author and political analyst Zahid Hussain pointed out. "Have they (TTP) surrendered their arms?" he questioned.

The conditions under which the truce had been agreed upon were very important, especially considering the attacks over the last few months that were claimed by the TTP, he added.

Hussain termed the decision to talk to the TTP "very wrong", saying it will be very damaging for Pakistan. "Such negotiations have never yielded peace in the past. Are we going to repeat the same mistakes?"

The prime minister had said in an interview in September that the government will "forgive [TTP members] and they will become normal citizens". Referring to the prime minister's offer, Hussain said reports suggested TTP members would become part of mainstream society. "They were involved in the killing of thousands of citizens and the [Army Public School attack]," he recalled incredulously.

Related: Families of APS attack victims oppose amnesty to TTP

Political analyst Dr Huma Baqai pointed out that the government once again did not have a policy that was clear of strategic confusion.

"The state is again more for accommodation than prosecution. The TTP wants to use the truce as a breathing space so the Afghan Taliban won't take action against them."

Terming it a "dangerous trajectory", she said that the TTP was in a relatively weaker position at the moment. "They are comparatively docile and complacent right now. Their ideological thrust is not pro-Pakistan. If they are allowed the breathing space, a terrible situation could be created," she warned.

What precedent does it set?

Rana said the implications of much of the exercise depended on what the TTP's demands were. "They haven't exposed their intention in this agreement," he said. However, their insistence on imposing sharia could see related clauses become a part of any future agreement, the analyst said.

Baqai stressed that the talks set a "terrible" precedent. There were over 250 religious outfits in Pakistan, she said, adding that the truce sent out the message: "Violence is the greatest bargaining chip. If you can shut down the town, you can be accommodated."

"The people of Pakistan have not resorted to violence. They [TTP] have resorted to violence. They are responsible for terror attacks. What does [the truce] mean? Should we surrender to terrorists? What terms is the peace on?" Hussain asked.

Whether or not they surrendered, TTP members should be punished for their crimes, he emphasised. "Terrorists have not gotten amnesty anywhere in the world," he said, adding that it should be a lesson for Pakistan.

"It is not the first time that talks have taken place. What happened in Swat after the [2009] truce? Some top leadership was released and they wreaked havoc upon people's lives."

The truce he referred to was signed between the Government of Pakistan and Mullah Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio. The "nine-point peace deal" broke down two years later and the Pakistan Army launched an operation in the Swat valley in May 2009.

Read: Swat — an unquiet calm

Afghan Taliban's role

Hussain noted that some factions of the TTP had close links with the Afghan Taliban and had taken sanctuary in Afghanistan which was not possible without the support of the Taliban setup in the neighbouring country.

"We have been saying that (Pakistani) Taliban have support from India and RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) and now we're offering them amnesty. The government should have a clear policy — were they correct back then or are they correct now? Will we allow the Taliban to dictate to us?"

Baqai pointed out the complications of involving the Afghan Taliban as facilitators.

The interior minister of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has been playing a mediating role between Pakistan and the TTP, bringing the two sides under one roof to engage in face-to-face talks, a source had earlier told Dawn.

"Using the Haqqani network is tricky and the government will have to see which side of international law it falls on. Haqqani network has gotten us in trouble in the past," she said.

Baqai questioned the need to talk to the TTP in the first place. "Why do we want to engage with them? If we do, very rigid red lines should be drawn. The first thing the TTP should do is give an undertaking that they will follow the Constitution and the writ of the state."

When asked about the Afghan Taliban's role in the talks, Rana simply said it was crucial and important.

Will the truce hold?

Rana thinks it will. "This is a completely different scenario," he said. The last time talks were held with the TTP, the group, along with other terrorist groups, held areas hostage, he explained.

"Al Qaeda is weak now. Other coalition groups are either weak or have been eliminated."

Baqai disagreed. "The truce will hold as long as it suits them," she said. The TTP was agreeing to a truce to get breathing space and they could revert to their attacks as they have done in the past, she added.

"This whole talk of good and bad Taliban is self-deceiving and self-defeating."

Will this affect Pakistan's image?

Hussain said any deal with the TTP would send out a "wrong message" and raise questions about the government's policy of appeasement. So many people had been killed in the country's fight against terrorism and making a deal with the people responsible would give a "negative impression", he reasoned.

The country's image was damaged by the agreements with the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and it would be further damaged by a deal with the TTP, Baqai said. "We had been pitching for so long that we fought against terrorism. This is literally a reverse of that."

She noted that while Western nations had the luxury of distance — such as when the United States signed a deal with the Afghan Taliban — Pakistan would have to directly suffer the consequences if things went wrong.

"If we enter into a deal due to any compulsion, very stringent red lines should be drawn. It also matters how hard we can come down if the Taliban go back [on their promises]."

However, Rana said the deal with the TTP will be an internal matter and will not affect the country's image internationally. "The US has also done a deal with the Afghan Taliban. They (the Pakistan government) are aiming to eliminate terrorism from the country.

"Our major concern is not international. What matters is whether it is a collective process and if it is completed. The TTP may break its promises," he warned.