PESHAWAR: Pakistan Government and outlawed TTP are in negotiations and reportedly close to an agreement to meet each other’s demands and conditions. According to media outlets and news agencies, Pakistani officials have reached a tentative understanding with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to seek a broader peace agreement to end nearly two decades of militancy in the country,
Prime Minister Imran Khan has recently disclosed in a TV interview that his government is in negotiation with banned TTP and both are considering each other’s demands.
Sources said the “direct, face-to-face” talks between the two sides being held in Afghanistan’s south-western Khost province for nearly two weeks had resulted in a tentative understanding to declare a countrywide truce, conditional to the release of some TTP foot soldiers as part of confidence-building measures.
It was not immediately clear how many militants in Pakistan’s custody would be allowed to go free, but sources said the number was not more than two dozen people. “These are foot soldiers, not senior or mid-level commanders,” the sources said. “We are testing the ground. We are cautious,” they added.
“The truce will come into effect once the prisoners are released,” these sources said, requesting not to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media. “The tentative month-long truce shall be extendable, depending on how these negotiations go forward,” a source said, Dawn has reported.
It is not clear who from the Pakistan side is negotiating with the TTP. The interior minister of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has been playing a mediating role between Pakistan and the TTP, bringing the two sides under one roof to engage in face-to-face talks, said another source.
“Talks are being held directly between senior officers and senior TTP leadership. The TTP includes all groups without exception,” the source added. “There are several proposals on the table and both sides are working to hammer out a workable solution.”
This source made it clear that no tribal intermediaries were being engaged in talks with the TTP leadership at the moment. “They will be engaged at the appropriate time,” the source maintained.
In an interview with a Turkish news channel last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had acknowledged that his government was in talks with the TTP so that they may surrender arms and reconcile in return for amnesty “to be able to live like ordinary citizens”.
The TTP had rejected Mr Khan’s amnesty offer, insisting their struggle was for the enforcement of Shariah in Pakistan.
Pakistani security officials have been pressing the Afghan Taliban to shut down TTP bases on their soil in line with their international commitments, citing increase in the number of attacks and casualties in Pakistan.
Shortly before the Afghan Taliban takeover, the movement had constituted a three-member high-powered commission to engage with the TTP in a bid to persuade it to cease hostilities against Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban leadership, knowledgeable sources had said at the time, was reluctant to use force, referring to tribal affinities and their joint fight and sacrifices against foreign occupation in Afghanistan.
Attention was then diverted towards those deemed amenable to negotiations, while the Afghan Taliban continued to work on a reluctant TTP leadership to engage with senior Pakistani intermediaries for direct, face-to-face talks.
Some government officials said that while many TTP foot soldiers and others were tired and weary of the fighting and living in exile and wanted to avail the amnesty offer, some militant leaders, including TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali and Jamaatul Ahrar leader Omar Khalid Khurasani, were proving to be “hard nuts” and resisting negotiations. “Now, every one of them is on board,” a source said.
The TTP has yet to confirm or deny the talks or the tentative understanding reached between the two sides.
Pakistani military had launched a major operation against militants in North Waziristan, the last redoubt of the TTP, forcing militants to flee across the border into neighbouring Afghanistan. But the militants using the sanctuary in the neighbouring country have been launching frequent cross-border attacks, assassinations, fire-raids and bombings in different parts of the country.
Such attacks have seen an uptick since the Afghan Taliban takeover of Kabul in mid-August.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview
Prime Minister Imran Khan has said the government is in talks with some groups of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), seeking a reconciliation. “There are different groups which form the TTP and some of them want to talk to our government for peace. So, we are in talks with them. It’s a reconciliation process,” he said during an interview with the TRT World.
When asked if the government was asking them to lay down arms, the PM responded: “Yes, we forgive them and they become normal citizens”.
The interviewer then asked why the TTP was conducting attacks on Pakistan’s security forces when they were in talks with the government. To this, the premier said it was just a “spate of attacks”.
“We might not reach some sort of conclusion or settlement in the end but we are talking,” he added.
Responding to another query on whether the Afghan Taliban were acting as mediators between the TTP and Pakistan, the premier said: “Since the talks were taking place in Afghanistan, so in that sense, yes.”
PM Imran reiterated he didn’t believe in military solutions. “I am anti-military solution, and as a politician, I believe political dialogue is the way ahead.”
He said dialogue was the only way out in the case of Afghanistan also.
Earlier in September, President Arif Alvi had suggested that the Pakistani government could consider giving an amnesty to those members of the TTP who had not remained involved in “criminal activities” and who laid down their weapons and agreed to adhere to the Pakistani Constitution.
Such an amnesty could be one of the ways to “establish peace”, the president had said.
His remarks were followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi expressing similar sentiments in an interview on Sept 15. He said the government would be “open to giving” a pardon to members of the TTP if they promised not to get involved in terrorist activities and submit to the Pakistani Constitution.
“But as long as they do not come and start undertaking terrorist activities [in Pakistan]. That is our concern,” the minister had emphasised.