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Wednesday December 01, 2021

Why the need for talks?

October 19, 2021

Some terrorism analysts advocate that engagement of hostile terrorist groups is an element of a successful counterterrorism campaign. However, such negotiations should be pursued if the conditions on the ground are favourable for the terrorist group’s transition.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in a recent interview admitted to having initiated engagement with parts of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. What are the favourable conditions on the ground that this step has been initiated and what are the parameters of these talks since parliament and public opinion have been excluded from the process?

Past negotiations with the TTP had opposite results, whether it was the Swat accord 2009 with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-Mohammadi which allowed the TNSM to establish Shariah courts, that "openly administered punishment to people who dared to violate their strict code of conduct” or the Miranshah accord Waziristan in 2006.

In both cases, the Pakistani state abdicated its writ to the TTP and ultimately had to restore it through subsequent military operations incurring huge human and economic costs. The government was never hamstrung by any legal or political obstacles in accommodating TTP demands in Swat or the former tribal districts but even then these accords failed.

The TNSM predated the US invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’. It became active in Swat in 1994, and was ultimately flushed out of Swat via Operation Rah-e-Rast of 2009. North Waziristan also was allowed to become a hub for all brands of Islamic militancy much before Pakistan’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’.

The second aspect of the need for a dialogue is legitimacy and popularity among the people. Historically states have negotiated with non-state actors and their demands only if they felt that they were acquiring legitimacy and were ready to be a part of the state and had enough popularity among the population. The TTP in Swat or the former tribal districts was never able to win the support of the people, although its ruthless killing agenda eroded people’s faith in the state and its machinery.

In the tribal districts, the TTP was never able to acquire legitimacy. The resistance of the Aman Lashkar formed in these areas, the tribes’ resistance in Bajaur Agency, Kurram Agency, Orakzai agency along with the popular movement of the PTM are testimony to this. Even if the TTP were touted as having sympathy from the local population of Swat or the tribal districts, their brutal rule, harsh punishments, and extortionist policy alienated them from the locals.

The dialogue between the Pakistani state and the TTP will only create confusion without any outcome.

Another aspect of this dialogue which needs to be questioned is that, after carrying out the massive Operation Zarb-e-Azb to diminish the group, why do we need to engage with the TTP?

Reports suggest that some of the groups within the TTP – since it is not one monolithic group – appear to have asked for greater autonomy for the tribal areas. Is the government ready to concede to these demands since the dynamic of the tribal areas for a TTP version of Shariah will create havoc in the region once again like it did in the past?

If the government is troubled by the resurgence of TTP militants like Maulvi Faqir Mohammad set free by the Afghan Taliban and worried about its investments particularly those linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, then the TTP might not be in a frame of mind to talk since the Afghan Taliban’s ascent to power can only embolden them.

The Afghan Taliban might offer to mediate during the current talks, but Pakistan’s security planners should not let go of the fact that the current leadership of TTP Noor Wali Mehsud enjoys proximity with Al Qaeda too and the capacity and influence of the Taliban cannot be of much use.

Granting the privilege of talks to brutal murderers who have already benefited from war will not only seriously undermine the credibility of this government but will also mean recognition of the TTP, which is often perceived as conferring a certain degree of legitimacy to their actions. The TTP’s killing of 80,000 Pakistanis can never be seen as legitimate, no matter how much we favour the Taliban in Afghanistan for our strategic interests.

The writer is from Fata and has adegree in human rights from the University of London.

Twitter: @mo2005