THE mystery of the government’s talks with the banned TTP persists. While sources have disclosed that “face-to-face” discussions, facilitated by the Afghan Taliban in Khost province, have yielded an agreement on a conditional truce, official confirmation is awaited. But there is enough room for concern.
A little over a month ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan had revealed in an interview to Turkish state television that Pakistan was already in talks with some factions of the militant group also known as the Pakistani Taliban. These talks have apparently led to ‘results’ and the government is set to release up to two dozen “foot soldiers” — whatever that term means in the context of a dangerous terrorist outfit that has killed tens of thousands of people in the country. Indeed, the “just a spate of attacks” the prime minister had referred to in that interview has not ceased, with security personnel being frequently targeted.
The TTP’s bloodletting cannot be whitewashed. Neither can the government afford to turn a blind eye to the group’s predilection for violating peace deals as the past has shown. What assurance do our rulers have that an organisation which left no stone unturned to carry out ferocious attacks against all — the military, government officials, ordinary people — and that has been accused of colluding with RAW is just a misguided force that is now willing to tread the path of reform? What guarantee can they give that the release of those they see as minor operatives won’t be a precursor to amnesty for top-ranking TTP commanders and masterminds? Indeed, what evidence do they have that the truce just agreed to will last?
It is true that political unrest and dire economic circumstances at home, as well as an unstable situation in Afghanistan, have made Pakistani officials doubly anxious to resolve the TTP challenge. Across the border, the Afghan Taliban, a nationalist force that fought against the recent foreign occupation of Afghanistan, face greater tests as they grapple with the task of governing a war-torn country. Besides they may feel beholden to the TTP, with whom they share tribal links, for having sheltered them when they were driven out of their country post 9/11. That may explain their role as mediator. But is this exercise, shrouded in such secrecy, the way to a durable solution?
Thousands of families have been directly or indirectly affected by the TTP’s actions, and it is only fair that any debate on cutting a deal with the group must have the input of all those who represent the electorate in parliament. Several opposition members were in government at the time when terrorist strikes were at their zenith; surely, their opinions would be invaluable. A parliamentary debate on the topic may also reveal why so many of our politicians soft-pedal religiously inspired militancy (TTP) or extremism (TLP) but are averse to engaging with rivals working in the same halls of democracy.
Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2021