Then-spokesman of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Shahidullah Shahid (R) speaks during a press conference at an undisclosed location in Pakistan on February 21, 2014. — AFP/File

On again, off again: A timeline of govt-TTP talks

A number of rounds of direct and indirect talks between the govt and the TTP have failed to bring lasting peace.
Published December 10, 2021

The government's announcement that it is holding negotiations with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has left both analysts and ordinary Pakistanis divided.

On the one hand, there is the view, endorsed by the government, that wars cannot be fought "infinitely". On the other hand, critics caution about the wisdom of negotiating with a group that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis.

The main question, however, is whether the latest attempt will succeed; this is not the first time the Pakistani state is trying to bring the militant group's violence to an end through negotiations.

The TTP, an umbrella grouping for disparate militant organisations, ​has been waging an insurgency inside Pakistan since 2007, unleashing deadly attacks on urban centres from their bases along the Afghan border, where they provided shelter to an array of global militant groups including Al Qaeda.

But a massive military offensive launched in 2014 largely destroyed the group's command and control structure, dramatically reducing insurgent violence throughout Pakistan. Sporadic attacks targeting security forces, however, continue.

A number of rounds of direct and indirect talks between the government and the TTP have been held since 2007, with some resulting in peace agreements.

But all such pacts failed to bring stability, and merely gave the militant group time and space to consolidate, launch fresh attacks and impose their austere version of Islam on segments of the population.

2007 — peace deal with Mullah Fazlullah

The first time negotiations with the TTP made headway was in May 2007 when a nine-point peace deal was reached between Mullah Fazlullah, who went on to become the TTP chief and was eventually killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan in 2018.

Nicknamed 'Mullah Radio' for delivering fiery sermons on his own FM station, the agreement between the government and Fazlullah allowed him to continue spreading his message using radio, according to a Foreign Policy report.

Undated photo taken from video by the Taliban's Umar Media propaganda wing shows Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah.
Undated photo taken from video by the Taliban's Umar Media propaganda wing shows Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah.

Later in September, the Safi tribe and the local Taliban reached an agreement to stop attacks on security forces and government installations in the former Mohmand Agency.

The agreement made it binding on the administration to take no action against the Taliban who, in turn, would stop attacks on security forces and government installations and would not disturb peace in the agency.

2008 — Agreement and disagreement in Swat

In the first quarter of 2008, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) government released Maulana Sufi Mohammad, chief of the banned Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) and father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, who had been in detention for six years.

His release followed an agreement with leaders of the banned organisation who denounced militancy and condemned the elements involved in attacks on state institutions, police and other law-enforcement agencies.

Meanwhile, tribal elders in South Waziristan who had been trying to broker a peace deal between the government and then-TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud suffered a setback when he pulled out after the government refused to withdraw the army from tribal areas on the Afghan border.

In May, the provincial government and the Swat Taliban reached a 15-point agreement to restore peace in the region.

It envisaged a phased withdrawal of troops from the district and required Fazlullah's supporters to stop attacks on security forces and government officials, and installations.

Separately, in the same month, the Taliban in Darra Adamkhel announced a complete cessation of hostilities after holding talks for six days with a peace committee of local elders.

The deal had come after the local administration formed a jirga in Kohat and sent it to the Taliban to hold talks on behalf of the government.

However, none of the agreements managed to make it to the following year.

After the failure of the deal made between the government and the TTP in Swat, the group threatened to launch suicide attacks across the country, claiming that both the federal and provincial governments had "failed to meet their commitments".

The deal with Muhammad Sufi also fell apart over a disagreement on how to impose Sharia in the Swat valley despite the government's promulgation of the controversial Shariah Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Malakand Division and Kohistan. Following the breakdown of talks, the army launched Operation Rah-i-Rast, commonly known as Swat Operation, in 2009 after which the valley was cleared of the TTP.

It would be three years before another attempt at a peace deal would be made.

2011 — Negotiations in Bajaur

Another round of talks reportedly took place in late 2011, confirmed by the TTP's deputy commander.

"Our talks are going in the right direction," Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the TTP commander in the former Bajaur tribal agency, told Reuters news agency at the time.

He said peace agreements between the government and TTP leadership of other tribal regions would be signed as well if the negotiations in Bajaur succeeded.

The TTP commander also said the Pakistani government had released 145 members of the militant group as a gesture of goodwill, while the TTP had pledged a ceasefire.

This round of talks wasn't confirmed by government officials and the Taliban also later denied that discussions were taking place, insisting that it would only happen if Islamabad agreed to impose Sharia.

2013 — Not quite there yet

The year 2013 was a see-saw with the TTP expressing willingness to talk as early as February. However, there was no concrete development as the militant group criticised the government for not taking any substantial step towards it, which had instead set a pre-condition of laying down weapons and following the Constitution.

In October 2013, then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif said talks with the TTP had started but refused to give details about who was taking part or what would be discussed. However, the Taliban said they had "no contact" with the government.

The group dismissed the idea of peace talks completely in December, claiming they had information that plans for military action against them were already under way.

Later that month, the prime minister delegated Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and then-chairman of the Pakistan Defence Council, the task to create a feasible environment to initiate a dialogue with the TTP.

2014 — 'Journey for peace'

At the end of January 2014, then-premier Nawaz announced an initiative to talk with the TTP, following a spate of deadly attacks, saying the government wanted to give peace another chance.

The first formal meeting between the government and a team nominated by the TTP was held in Islamabad in February.

The government team in the talks comprised adviser to the prime minister Irfan Siddiqui, veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, diplomat Rustam Shah Mohmand and Amir Shah, a retired major from the Inter-Services Intelligence.

The TTP was represented by Maulana Samiul Haq, Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, and Jamaat-i-Islami leader Ibrahim Khan.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad where the first session of talks between the government and the TTP was held in 2014. — AFP/File
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa House in Islamabad where the first session of talks between the government and the TTP was held in 2014. — AFP/File

The government side laid out five conditions, including ending hostilities, during the first round of the talks aimed at devising a "roadmap" for negotiations that would seek to end the violence.

The Taliban team agreed to travel to Miranshah to discuss the conditions with its leadership, according to the BBC.

Speaking after the meeting, Siddiqui said: "Today, we started the journey for peace, and both sides have agreed to complete it as soon as possible."

The next month, in March, government officials held their first direct talks with the TTP leadership at an undisclosed location in the northwest, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Unlike the earlier talks that were held between intermediaries for the two groups, this round was a rare direct communication between the two sides.

The talks saw some progress in coming weeks, but collapsed in June 2014, according to the US government's Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.

In the same month, the government launched an all-out military operation against local and foreign militants in North Waziristan — Zarb-i-Azb — sealing off the area and requesting the Afghan National Army to plug possible escape routes across the border.

Read: Zarb-i-Azb — The 'War of Survival'

The operation, which was termed a phenomenal success, badly weakened the group, driving it from its strongholds in the tribal areas into neighbouring Afghanistan.

2021 — the most recent attempt at peace

After a gap of more than half a decade, the first mention of talks with the militant group came on September 10 when President Dr Arif Alvi suggested that the government could consider giving an amnesty to those members of the banned TTP who have not remained involved in "criminal activities" and who lay down their weapons and agree to adhere to the Constitution.

That was followed days later by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi's interview in which he reiterated the president's suggestion that the government would be "open to giving" a pardon to TTP members if they promise not to get involved in terrorist activities, and submit to the country's Constitution.

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

The next month, Prime Minister Imran Khan confirmed that the government was indeed in talks with the TTP so that its members may surrender and reconcile in return for amnesty "to be able to live like ordinary citizens".

The TTP had rejected the premier's amnesty offer at the time, insisting their struggle was for the enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan.

Read: Making peace with militants

However, at the start of November, multiple sources told Dawn that Pakistani officials had reached a tentative understanding with the TTP to seek a broader peace agreement to end nearly two decades of militancy in the country.

The official confirmation came on November 8 when Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that a complete ceasefire had been reached between the government and the TTP.

He added that the Afghan Taliban, who formed an interim government in Afghanistan in August, had facilitated the negotiations.

The same day, a statement issued by TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani confirmed the temporary truce, adding that it would be effective for a month, from November 9 till December 9.

However, when the 30-day period lapsed, the TTP decided not to extend the ceasefire, accusing the government of failing to honour the decisions reached earlier.

The announcement has put the nascent peace efforts into the doldrums.

According to a statement issued by the TTP late on Thursday evening, the government not only failed to implement the decisions reached between the two sides but on the contrary, the security forces conducted raids in Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Bajaur, Swabi and North Waziristan and killed and detained militants.

"Under these circumstances, it is not possible to extend the ceasefire," the TTP said.

Earlier in an audio, TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud announced an end to the ceasefire and asked his fighters to resume attacks past 12am.

Compiled by Urooj Imran and Adeel Ahmed.