Conflict Alerts # 446, 7 October 2021
In the news
On 1 October, in an interview with a Turkish TV - TRT World, Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government is in talks with some of the TTP groups. He said: "Some of the Pakistani Taliban groups actually want to talk to our government…for some peace and reconciliation. And we are in talks with some of the groups…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."
To a question, whether the Afghan Taliban is helping on the above process, Imran Khan said: "Since the talks were taking place in Afghanistan, so in that sense, yes." To the question that the Pakistani Taliban would lay down the arms, Imran Khan said: "Yes. And then, we forgive them. They become normal citizens." He also said: "I do not believe in military solution. I'm anti-military solution. I always believe, as a politician, political dialogue is the way ahead." To the question why is the TTP targeting security forces, if they are negotiating for a political settlement, Imran said: "I think, that is just a spate of attacks. We are talking. We might not reach a conclusion or settlement at the end. But, we are talking."
Issues at large
First, the TTP terror in Pakistan. The Tehrik-i-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP), was founded post-American invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks in the US. Initially, formed as different tribal groups in the erstwhile Federally Administrated Tribal Agencies (FATA) of Pakistan, they came to unite under the TTP banner in 2007. Baitullah Mehsud became the first major leader of the TTP, though different tribal groups had their own leaders fighting the US forces and Pakistan (then under Gen Musharraf's regime). The TTP ran/runs a terror campaign within Pakistan; numerous political leaders from political parties were assassinated by it; a series of massive suicide attacks were launched across the country – from Khyber to Karachi.
Second, the divide within the TTP. The Pakistani Taliban was not a monolithic group. During the initial years, the TTP was led by the Mehsud and Wazir tribes in North and South Waziristan agencies. Qari Hussain Mehsud, Hakimullah Mehsud, Wali ur Rehman, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, and Maulvi Nazir were some of the leaders of these two tribes. Though they fought under the TTP banner, there were differences within, and at times also fought against each other. Later it expanded to include other tribal agencies of the FATA. For example, the TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi) from the Swat valley became a part of the TTP.
Third, the dialogue with the TTP. Though Imran Khan has been consistent on the idea of negotiating with the TTP, there is no consensus on the subject within Pakistan – either within or outside the Parliament. The Establishment considers the TTP as a major threat; the TTP had carried out major attacks against the security forces. And even during the recent weeks, when it is believed to be in talks with the government, there has been a series of attacks.
The decision to talk with the TTP seems to be based on a personal conviction of Imran Khan, than a part of a well-planned process. He is also not clear about the endgame, as reflected by his statement that he "might not reach some sort of conclusion or settlement in the end." Second, the expectation that the TTP would lay down arms and "become normal citizens" is more of a hope, than based on an assessment at the ground level. Is the TTP, or sections of it, talking to the Imran government, without asking for anything in return? And where does the Establishment stand on this? These are two crucial questions that would decide the outcome of Imran's talks with the TTP.