Will Pakistan-TTP talks work long term?


By Talat Masood

THE recent initiative by Prime Minister Imran Khan to lift the ban on Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and engage with it has been a controversial decision and has come under severe criticism. This is after all, the same militant outfit responsible for the barbaric 2014 attack on a public school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in which 150 mostly young students and some members of staff were brutally murdered. Back then, the organization was banned and a major offensive launched against them.
This assignment was given to the formation that was based in Waziristan as part of the National Action Plan. No doubt, the operation succeeded in wiping their holdouts and it seemed that the threat had receded. The security forces claimed credit for the achievement and the media was all praise for them. However, peace did not last long and after a spell that was probably utilized for recouping their losses, the TTP made a comeback with renewed vigor. Now, the Taliban victory in Afghanistan has further boosted their morale. At this time, the government’s stance that general amnesty is being given to prisoners belonging to TTP on the understanding that it will not indulge in any violent activity is questionable. In fact, the TTP has rescinded on its agreements five times in the past. To trust them this time would be folly, and a clear admission of the government’s weakness.
There is a general perception that Imran Khan is too soft in dealing with militant outfits and rationalizes it by placing blame on previous government policies.

In 2013, during Nawaz Sharif’s PML government when the TTP was on a major offensive against the people and security institutions, Khan and his political party were insisting that the government declare a cease fire and allow them freedom of action and engage in dialogue. On the other hand, Khan and the PTI-led government takes a hard stand against peaceful demonstrations of liberal and moderate parties. The government is justifying its decision by maintaining that the government has engaged with TTP from a position of strength and the Afghan Taliban leadership, isolated and heavily reliant on Pakistan, has been only too willing to facilitate the accord.

Imran Khan’s personal fixation with a negative portrayal of the West is now having an impact on several aspects of national governance and policy.
Not taking the opposition and the nation into confidence and carrying out a secret deal with TTP and TLP in blatant disregard of democratic norms, has vitiated political sentiment. The rapprochement and flexibility in approach shown towards these groups is in sharp contrast to PM Khan’s intransigence in refusing to engage with the opposition leadership. It shows a scant regard for democratic values. Unfortunately, this attitude and the general image of the government has strengthened the TTP and they are now negotiating with confidence. Had the PM taken the opposition parties along and formulated policies with national consensus, it would have had far greater leverage.

TTP militants

It is a fact that countries firmly rooted in democratic culture are able to neutralize militant groups with greater ease. Quality of governance and economic conditions have a strong and direct bearing on the vulnerability of the country to be exploited by extraneous and indigenous elements.
If past experience and the present conduct of the TTP is any guide, it is most unlikely that the agreement between the TTP and the government will hold for too long. The aims and objectives of TTP are fundamentally at cross purposes with the stability of the state.
(Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues. E-mail: talatmasood186@gmail.com)