A three-member PPP committee is set to discuss the issue of talks with the TTP with other political parties
ollowing the ceasefire announced by Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is also the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson, has formed a committee to engage major political parties about taking up the issue in the parliament.
A party meeting presided over by Bilawal Bhutto discussed the issue of terrorism in the country, particularly in the light of recent developments in Afghanistan involving the Afghan Taliban and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The three-member committee formed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari comprises Qamar Zaman Kaira, Sherry Rehman and Farhatullah Babar.
The committee will meet parliamentary leaders of various parties to discuss the issue.
The PPP was a part of the government that had reached a similar ceasefire agreement with militants earlier.
At that time, the TTP had a strong presence in Swat. Mullah Fazlullah alias Mullah Radio was issuing edicts and orders from his FM radio channel. Policemen had been told to quit their jobs and threatened with dire consequences in case they did not. TTP had set up checkpoints at various places including entrances to and exits from Swat. There was significant popular support and sympathy for the Taliban in Malakand.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa then had a coalition government of the Awami National Party (ANP) and the PPP. Several ANP leaders were killed in Swat and ministers, MPAs and party leaders were receiving death threats. The ANP formed a jirga to erode public support for the militants. The first step was to bring them to the negotiating table. The provincial government’s decision to negotiate with the militants was viewed with disapproval all over the world. Several central leaders of the PPP too criticised it. The then senior minister Bashir Bilour once told me that the then president Asif Ali Zardari had summoned the then chief minister Amir Haider Hoti over the issue and expressed indignation at the development. However, he said, Hoti had stood firm and gone for the dialogue.
After the agreement was reached, TTP militants from Swat entered Buner and Shangla despite having given assurances to the contrary. The public support then turned in favour of the government. A military operation was begun and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government backed it. Around three million residents of the Malakand division were evacuated and rehabilitated after a successful operation to dislodge the militants.
It seems that the government is trying once again reach an agreement with the TTP. If some militant factions violate the agreement, then the guarantor of the agreement will be responsible for the consequences. This time the guarantor is Afghan Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his team. The talks have been going on for a long time.
Before the dialogue, the ‘hot pursuit’ strategy was also discussed when it became clear that the United States and its allies were leaving Afghanistan. The aim was to reduce the threat to Pakistan’s border areas if the situation in Afghanistan degenerated into chaos. After a meeting with local elders, it was decided to form a body of public representatives from the border regions. In the end a fifty-member jirga was sent to Kabul. Among others the jirga was attended by former PPP federal minister Sajjad Hussain Turi and former PPP parliamentarian Akhundzada Chattan.
Tradition, culture and geography are key to understanding the process. Credit for the success of the Malakand negotiations and the operation that followed a breach of the agreement belongs to the political leadership familiar with the local tradition and culture.
After reports about the jirga meeting and talks with the TTP appeared in the mainstream media, some PPP leaders expressed their reservations about the process.
Surprisingly, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ministers have remained silent throughout the process. The rest of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leadership, including Imran Khan, has also not commented on the ceasefire.
After the two key PPP leaders had met TTP representatives in Kabul and made positive statements about the jirga, PPP central leadership’s objections to their visit came as a surprise to some analysts. As far as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is concerned, Federal Minister for Information Maryam Aurangzeb has admitted in a press conference that she was aware of the talks. She said the talks were being held in accordance with the constitution.
Tradition, culture and geography are key to understanding the process. The credit for the success of the Malakand negotiations in reaching an agreement and of the operation that followed a breach of the agreement lies with the political leadership familiar with the local tradition and culture.
Direct talks have not started so far between the government and the TTP. However, the announcement of a second ceasefire is a positive development. It should be noted that despite its efforts, the United States was unable to persuade its allies in the then Afghan government to negotiate a similar ceasefire with the Afghan Taliban.
The PPP has proposed that the matter be brought to the parliament. They have also set up a three-member committee to take the leadership of other parties into confidence.
Pakhtun jirgas are formed and operate in a unique way. Credibility of the parties is important; so is the role of the facilitator-guarantor.
Once the government and the parliament have made a principled decision on the parameters of a dialogue with the militants, there will still be a need for a jirga that is aware of the limits of its mandate. Unlike most other forums where talks can bear fruit or break down jirgas tends to continue meeting until a concrete solution to the problem has emerged.
If negotiations are successful and an agreement is reached and if it is violated again, what will happen? In the jirga tradition, the responsibility then rests with the guarantor.
Another question is what kind of outcomes can one expect from the process? Well, the TTP has already declared a ceasefire. Even if talks fail to produce a comprehensive agreement, the government will likely welcome the development and try to keep up pressure on the TTP so that they do not resume their attacks against the security agencies.
What happens if the negotiations succeed? There are apprehensions that some of the militants will continue to operate in the region either as a splinter group leaving the TTP or join another outfit.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer on terrorism, conflict and peace development. He can be reached at email@example.com