‘No breakthrough’ in talks: Tense situation prevails in Bannu after militants seize CTD centre

Published December 19, 2022
<p>Police stand guard along a road they blocked after militants seized a police station in Bannu on December 19, 2022. — AFP</p>

Police stand guard along a road they blocked after militants seized a police station in Bannu on December 19, 2022. — AFP

Talks between the government and militants — who took over the Bannu Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) compound a day earlier — did not result in any breakthrough despite the lapse of almost 15 hours.

On Sunday, detained militants inside the CTD facility took over its compound, held interrogators hostage and demanded safe evacuation to Afghanistan.

The situation in Bannu remained tense on Monday as police and security agencies cordoned off the cantonment area — where the facility is located — and asked residents to stay indoors. Internet and mobile phone services were also suspended in the area.

The deputy commissioner of Bannu said that schools — both government and private — in the district would remain closed on December 20, Tuesday.

The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the incident. In a statement, a spokesperson for the militant group said that its members had taken CTD staff and security officials as hostage. He added that the militants — in a previous video statement — had demanded safe passage but “mistakenly mentioned Afghanistan”.

He further said the group had spoken to government officials overnight and asked them to “shift the prisoners” to either South or North Waziristan, but lamented that they had not received a positive response so far.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister (SACM) Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif said the situation was at a standstill and there there was no breakthrough as yet.

Speaking to Dawn.com, Saif also said that he was constantly in contact with the Taliban. “I spoke to the Taliban high-ups through the night,” he said, admitting that talks had not been fruitful thus far.

He also confirmed that a security official was killed in the Bannu compound by the militants but did not elaborate further. He said the government had engaged the militants to avoid casualties.

Separately in a tweet, Saif clarified that the government would not fulfil any demand of the terrorists.

He said that the “beleaguered terrorists” wanted to get the public’s sympathy through messages.

The SACM said it would be better for the armed persons to lay down their weapons, warning that “strict action” would be taken against them otherwise. He concluded that elements involved in terrorist activities would “not be treated lightly”.

Imran criticises govt for failure to curb terrorism

The PTI, which is at the helm in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, did not directly address the matter, but party Chairman Imran Khan criticised the federal government in a series of tweets over what he described as its failure to deal with the growing terrorism threat.

“Apart from running our economy to the ground, this imported government has failed to deal with the 50 per cent increase in terrorism in Pakistan with incidents from Chaman to Swat to Lakki Marwat to Bannu,” Imran said.

“They have also failed to deal with attacks from the international Pak-Afghan border by security forces of a ‘friendly’ Afghan government.

“While our soldiers, police and local people are giving daily sacrifices with their lives, the worst part is that this increasing terrorist threat and attacks from across our Western border are finding no space in the discourse of this government of a cabal of crooks.”

He alleged that the incumbent government was only interested in “their NRO2 and its preservation.

“Therefore, despite the economy tanking they are petrified of holding elections, which is the only way to stabilise the economy through political stabilisation.”

Responding to Imran’s statement, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the law and order situation in KP was the responsibility of the provincial government.

“KP CTD is in a rented building without even a grade 20 officer posted as CTD deputy inspector general of police. PTI would always make lame excuses for covering its shortfalls and criminal negligence,” he said.

The episode

On Sunday, militants detained at a facility run by KP police’s CTD managed to break out of the lockups and held security personnel hostage.

An official source said militants “took over the compound” and fired at the security personnel, injuring a policeman and a soldier.

Police and security forces rushed to the spot and an operation was underway to free the hostages, the source told Dawn on Sunday.

Earlier, sources said that negotiations were underway with the militants while commandos of the Pakistan Army and police were deployed for an operation.

Meanwhile, a resident in Bannu said gunshots and explosions were heard in the cantonment area.

Conflicting reports were shared on social media with many users claiming that terrorists had attack­­ed the CTD facility from the outside.

However, Saif had denied such reports and added that some detain­­ed ‘miscreants’ had tried to snatch weapons from security personnel.

A video clip also went viral in which allegedly one of the militants was holding a security official at gunpoint. The alleged militant demanded a “safe passage” to Afghanistan and warned of dire consequences if the demand was not met.

Another alleged militant, whose face was not visible, was heard saying eight to ten security personnel were in their captivity.

He said thirty-five of his associates — whom he called fidayeen — who were detained had managed to break free and demanded Pakistan ensured their departure to Afghanistan via air.

“We broke the jail and the security men are in our captivity and they will be released safely if we are provided a safe exit,” he said.

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