Monday July 04, 2022

Taliban confirm peace talks with govt, extend ceasefire till 30th

May 19, 2022

PESHAWAR: The Pakistani Taliban on Tuesday confirmed peace talks with the government and extension of ceasefire till May 30.

Meanwhile, the Afghan Taliban said they were facilitating parleys between Islamabad and the Pakistani Taliban, which led to a ceasefire. This is probably the third time the Taliban have announced a ceasefire this year.

Mohammad Khurrasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban or the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), who until now had denied holding talks with the government, in a statement confirmed the peace process and extension of the ceasefire.

He said the TTP received two jirgas of tribal elders from South Waziristan and Malakand region sent by the Pakistan government to help initiate the peace process between the two sides.

He said a 32-member jirga comprising Mehsud tribal elders came from South Waziristan while a 15-member jirga of elders arrived from the Malakand region and at their insistence, the Taliban leaders agreed to initiate peace talks and extend the ceasefire till May 30.

However, the government of Pakistan has yet to publicly comment on this development.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, confirmed their mediation in the peace process.

According to well-placed sources, the peace process that started in February 2021, initially by a few elders from Bajaur tribal district, had seen many ups and downs. However, it managed to arrange face-to-face meetings between senior Pakistani security officials and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan.

Former prime minister Imran Khan was in favour of the negotiations with the militants and had owned the peace process.

Mufti Bashir, a religious leader from Bajaur, had risked his life secretly travelling to Afghanistan during Dr Ashraf Ghani’s government.

It was Mufti Bashir and his colleagues, who helped establish contacts between Pakistani security officials and Taliban leaders and engaged senior members of the Afghan Taliban returning to power on August 15, 2021.

Mufti Bashir was assassinated by unidentified armed motorcyclists on April 26, 2022 near his village in Sewai in Mamond tehsil in Bajaur.

According to sources, the Pakistani Taliban had initially demanded the release of their five top leaders from Pakistani prisons prior to peace talks.

However, according to the jirga members who met the Taliban in Kabul this week told The News that the TTP leaders now wanted Pakistan to free two senior militant leaders, Haji Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan.

Both of them belong to Swat district and were arrested in 2009. They and another Taliban leader belonging to Shamozai town of Swat were taken to a meeting with the Pakistani security officials in Swat by a US-based resident of Swat, Alam Khan but never returned.

The sources said that Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan had already been freed and delivered to a third party, most probably to a powerful faction of the Afghan Taliban, for their subsequent release.

According to sources, some Pakistani security officials recently met the TTP leaders in Kabul and agreed to continue the peace process.

They said some militant factions had initially refused to participate in the peace talks reportedly as they had reservations but the jirga members had brought them to the negotiating table.

The TTP had announced a ceasefire for Eidul Fitr and extended it for five days before resuming the attacks.

The two sides had formed committees to represent them in the talks and would also set an agenda for negotiations.

“The Pakistani government wanted the Taliban to shun militant activities, return home and start a new peaceful life. That’s not an easy task and will require several rounds of meetings,” a tribal elder and jirga member told The News on condition of anonymity.

He said the jirga members had brought the two sides to the negotiating table and it was now up to them to talk out the issues.

The biggest issue, the jirga member said, would be to rehabilitate the Pakistani Taliban particularly the ones who used violence and carried head money.

Since its establishment on December 14, 2007, the TTP has carried out several attacks across Pakistan.

Baitullah Mehsud was the founding leader of the TTP. He led it from 2007 till 2009 when he was killed in a US drone attack. Hakimullah Mehsud had replaced him. He remained the TTP chief from 2009 to 2013.

After Hakimullah Mehsud’s killing in a US drone strike in North Waziristan, Maulana Fazal Hayat aka Maulana Fazlullah Khurrasani was nominated the TTP ameer in 2013.

He belonged to Swat and was the first non-tribal who was made the TTP leader. He also died in a US drone attack in Afghanistan’s Kunar province in 2018. The TTP was again handed over to the Mehsud tribal militants when Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud was chosen to replace Maulana Fazlullah in 2018. He is still leading the TTP and has managed to stage some major attacks in Pakistan.

Some of the attacks that the TTP owned in the past included the 2014 massacre of schoolchildren and their teachers in the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, killing of students in the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, and other major attacks on security installations such as the Karachi airport and Kamra airbase.

The TTP militants were flushed out of their previous strongholds in South Waziristan and North Waziristan as a result of military offensives.

The biggest military operation was Zarb-e-Azb that practically weakened them and forced them to leave their sanctuaries in North Waziristan and move to Afghanistan.

In recent months, the militants managed to reorganise and carry out attacks on security forces in Waziristan.