Are the Pakistan-TTP talks over?

Are the Pakistan-TTP talks over?

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Following the killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) leader Omar Khalid Khorasani and the transfer of former Peshawar Corps Commander Lt.General Faiz Hameed to Bahawalpur,  Pakistan’s negotiations with the terror group have hit a dead-end. Though both sides have neither scrapped the ceasefire nor formally announced the end of peace talks, the negotiations are presently suspended. The last formal round of talks between TTP and a tribal jirga was held in late July in Kabul. Concurrently, the TTP has resumed its attacks in Pakistan under the guise of what the terror groups refer to as retaliatory attacks. Against this backdrop, this piece will examine the current status of peace talks and their future by putting the afore-mentioned factors in perspective. 

The Taliban’s Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani was mediating the talks between Pakistan and TTP. After the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri in a Haqqani safe house in Kabul, the Taliban are focused on their internal matters and the repercussion of this development. The Taliban have also accused Pakistan of allowing the US to use its airspace for drone attacks in Afghanistan. Hence, the Taliban are not interested in facilitating Pakistan’s talks with TTP at this juncture. Furthermore, the Pakistan-TTP peace talks materialized due to the personal efforts of Faiz Hameed and Sirjauddin Haqqani. Faiz’s transfer and Siraj’s occupation with Afghanistan’s internal matters in the aftermath of al-Zawahiri’s killing has left the talks in unchartered territory. The tribal jirgas which participated in different parleys with TTP in Kabul fear for their lives, especially after the killing of Peace Committee leader Idrees Khan in Swat. TTP claimed that attack. They have also distanced themselves quietly from the peace process. 

In August, at least four TTP leaders were killed in different parts of Afghanistan, forcing the terror group to review the security of its chief Nur Wali Mehsud and restrict its public interactions with outsiders. TTP alleges the killings of its leaders are on Pakistan’s security institutions, and considers it a violation of the ceasefire. The contrary view is that the killings of these leaders is a result of TTP’s internal rifts. These leaders were opposed to an indefinite ceasefire with Pakistan. 

The uncertainty surrounding the peace talks will persist for now and some clarity on their future will emerge after November once a new army chief has been appointed in Pakistan. 

Abdul Basit Khan

Omar Khalid Khorasani was killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack along with two other TTP commanders Mufti Hassan and Hafiz Dawlat Khan in Birmal district of Paktika province on August 7. They were travelling to Birmal to hold consultations with a delegation of the Afghan Taliban. Another influential TTP commander and its intelligence chief Abdul Rashid alias Uqabi Bajauri was eliminated in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province on August 9. These killings prompted TTP to hold frantic discussions about the future of the ceasefire and peace talks. Though TTP did not announce a formal end to both processes, it has resumed its attacks in Pakistan under the guise of retaliatory operations. Arguably, TTP has not scrapped the ceasefire and peace talks to oblige the Afghan Taliban. It is important to mention that last August TTP entered negotiations with TTP on the Afghan Taliban’s insistence. TTP agreed to sit on the talking table under the Taliban’s mediation. Otherwise, TTP did not feel there was a need to talk to Pakistan. 

Prior to their suspension, the peace talks were deadlocked and despite Pakistan’s serious efforts to convince TTP to revisit some of its demands, the terror group showed no flexibility. In late July, a group of Pakistan religious scholars led by prominent Cleric Mufti Taqi Usmani, who is revered both by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, also failed to break the deadlock. In fact, rather than softening its position, TTP put forth an eight-point rationale justifying its militarism against Pakistan. Furthermore, during this period, TTP consolidated its organizational structure and recreated its presence in the ex-FATA region and the Malakand division. The covert permission granted to some 500 to 600 TTP members to re-enter the ex-FATA region and the Malakand Division allowed the terror group to spread its tentacles.   

Prior to their suspension, peace talks were deadlocked over TTP’s refusal to soften its position on the reversal of the ex-FATA region’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, disband its organizational structure, lay down arms and abide by the Pakistani constitution. For Pakistan, the constitution and reversal of ex-FATA’s merger were red lines. The uncertainty surrounding the peace talks will persist for now and some clarity on their future will emerge after November once a new army chief has been appointed in Pakistan. 

In the meantime, TTP’s terrorist attacks and Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations against the terror group will continue without revival or suspension of the ceasefire and peace talks. It will not be out of place to observe that talks are as good as dead. As and when peace talks resume, if at all, a new push will be required from both sides to reach a political settlement. In the ultimate analysis, the decision to pursue peace talks or a military operation against TTP should be taken by the parliament. Irrespective of what path Pakistan pursues to deal with TTP, Pakistan is in dire need of a new national consensus on how to deal with religious extremism.   

- The author is a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. Twitter @basitresearcher. 

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