Ulema in Kabul

Published July 27, 2022

WHILE attacks by militants on Pakistani forces continue, the state is still strangely committed to suing for peace with the banned TTP. The latest effort involves sending a delegation of ulema to Kabul to see if the TTP would be willing to ‘soften’ their stance. Led by Mufti Taqi Usmani, the group includes some of the country’s other top Deobandi scholars, as well as JUI-F senator Talha Mahmood. As reported in this paper, the delegation was briefed by officials before leaving Islamabad for the Afghan capital. The effort to send clerics to see if the TTP would be amenable to negotiations follows the visit last month by a jirga of Pakhtun tribes that also tried to talk peace with the militants. The military had been leading the effort, while elected representatives were involved at a later stage when a parliamentary committee was given the green light to oversee the process.

Perhaps the thinking within the powers that be is that because the TTP and the clerics belong to the same school of thought, the militants may adopt a more flexible position while negotiating with the state. However, the experience with religiously motivated militants thus far both in Pakistan and abroad is that they have mostly ignored, or even opposed, the traditional ulema. Therefore, while the TTP may greet the scholars with reverence, there are no guarantees the militants will heed their advice. For example, the terrorist group’s chief Noor Wali Mehsud said in a recent interview that the reversal of former Fata’s merger with KP is a demand the group “cannot back down from”. Moreover, the state can try other channels to reach out to the militants, but it is parliament that has to have the final say on the state of the peace process. And it should certainly not appear as if the state is trying to appease the militants. It needs to be asked if the TTP is even interested in making peace, particularly within the parameters of the Constitution. Or is the group simply buying time? After all, a UN report has said that the terrorist group has between 3,000 to 4,000 fighters in Afghanistan and poses “a greater threat in the region”. The impression that Pakistan is bending over backwards to make peace with the TTP, while the latter rigidly sticks to its demands, must be dispelled. No armed group can be allowed to dictate what the state of Pakistan can and cannot do.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2022

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