IT may be a given that the country’s security establishment would take the lead in talks with the banned TTP, but it was important that this hugely consequential issue be part of a more inclusive process. And that is the direction in which matters at last seem to be moving.

On Wednesday, the military top brass in a briefing to the political leadership held out the assurance that no extra-constitutional concessions would be given to the militants and any deal arrived at would be subject to parliamentary approval.

The meeting, the first of its kind since the coalition government came to power, was arranged after the PPP protested that the civilian leadership was being sidelined in the ongoing negotiations. It goes to show that it is worth demanding a seat at the table, instead of being resigned to irrelevance.

The implications of ‘mainstreaming’ militants are far-reaching and must be discussed threadbare by the people’s representatives, for they would be in the hot seat if things do not go as planned. The imprimatur of parliament is essential.

In the interest of inclusivity, the coalition should have also invited the PTI leadership. At the very least, the presence of KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan should have been sought at the briefing.

One of the TTP’s demands is a rollback of Fata’s merger with KP, but they have been told there can be no reversal of the move that was effected through a constitutional amendment. Their other demands, indicated the military officials at Wednesday’s meeting, are under consideration.

Read: Reversal of Fata merger impossible, says Sanaullah

As matters stand, an indefinite ceasefire between the government and the TTP was announced last month with negotiations set to continue, and an in-camera parliament session is to be convened to bring lawmakers into the loop. But there is a long way to go before any resolution can be arrived at.

A number of thorny issues need to be ironed out, not the least of which is how the militants are to be ‘mainstreamed’. It would certainly rankle the public if top commanders whose hands are stained with the blood of innocent Pakistanis are given amnesty.

Of course, it is debatable whether any deal is even possible. Peace agreements with militants in the past have invariably failed; in fact, these violent actors have used the time to regroup and come back stronger than ever. Moreover, the TTP comprises several outfits with varying degrees of heft within the combine as well as different levels of commitment to militancy. Some are war-weary, while others, like the Jamaatul Ahrar, are driving a hard bargain. It would be exceedingly difficult to bring them all on the same page.

That said, if an agreement is arrived at, it must be one the public perceives as doing some justice to their years of suffering. And its details must not be kept from them.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022

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