THERE'S an element of smoke and mirrors in the negotiations between the Pakistan government and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in Kabul under the aegis of the Afghan Taliban. As time goes on, it seems apparent the TTP`s game plan is to appear as though it wants to resolve the impasse with the Pakistani state through dialogue, while sabotaging any chance of a resolution.
The latest development on that front is that the umbrella organisation of militant groups is refusing to back down from what it describes as its primary demand: the reversal of Fata`s merger with KP. Aside from this, it is also insisting on the withdrawal of security forces from the tribal districts, amnesty for its fighters and the enforcement of Sharia in Malakand Division. But, as Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah stated at a press conference, the TTP has been informed that the rollback of the merger is non-negotiable even while its other demands, he said, were under consideration. The TTP know they risked antagonising their hosts, the Afghan Taliban, if they declined to take part in the talks. The Kabul regime, which stands virtually isolated, is in dire need of financial assistance and may be hoping that successfully mediating a resolution between Pakistan and the TTP would give it a legitimacy of sorts in the eyes of the world. Moreover, its strategically important relationship with Pakistan had been coming under strain on account of the TTP`s relentless cross-border attacks.
However, the TTP has upped the ante by setting a condition impossible for Pakistan to meet. No state can afford to cede sovereignty to militants under any circumstances. We saw what transpired after a similar mistake in 2009 when extremists were allowed to take control in Malakand Division. The exercise yielded little aside from traumatising those subjected to the brutality of the militants and whetting the latter`s appetite for more territorial domination, which necessitated yet another military operation to take back control of the area. Despite an indefinite extension in April of the ceasefire between Pakistan and the TTP, prospects of peace between the two, as described in a recent UN report, are bleak. Negotiating with extremists is tricky; no peace treaty with them has lasted beyond a few months. Attempting it with an umbrella organisation with multiple militant groups is even more so especially when some do not seem to care that the alternative to failure of talks is yet more war.
Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2022