Conflict Alerts # 454, 11 November 2021
In the news
On 8 November, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that a "complete ceasefire" had been reached between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The minister stated that talks between the government and the TTP were underway, stating: "the state's sovereignty, national security, peace in relevant areas and social and economic stability will be considered during the talks." Additionally, he added that the interim Afghan government had facilitated the negotiations.
Later, on 9 November, he reiterated: "There are various groups within TTP; there are [some] ideologues, while there are others who joined the organisation under compulsion. The state of Pakistan wants to give its citizens a chance if all of them, some of them or a fraction of them want to come back and show their allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan." Meanwhile, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani confirmed that the ceasefire which will begin on 9 November would remain in place until 9 December, during which both sides will form a committee to continue talks.
Issues at large
First, Imran Khan's efforts to reach out to proscribed groups. Prime Minister Imran Khan in an interview with TRT World stated: "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," arguing that dialogue was the only solution and is willing to "forgive" the TTP if an agreement is reached. PM Khan has always maintained that he favours negotiations over military action because of which he has been criticised for being a sympathizer of the militants.
Second, challenges in addressing the TTP issue. Dealing with the TTP comes with several challenges. The lack of national consensus because of the government's unilateral approach along with the divide over how the negotiations should take place are the main challenges currently. This in turn has caused an intense backlash from the opposition parties, civil society and media who believe that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is going soft of the TTP.
Third, TTP's track record. The group's network was initially dismantled to a large extent after military operations that were carried out in the country in recent years. However, isolated attacks claimed by the TTP in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan the targeting of a high-security location has raised concerns of the TTP's resurgence. Additionally, the regroup within the group has also been concerning as the United Nations in a report addressed the activities of the TTP and noted the "reunification of splinter groups [of TTP]." Meanwhile, this is not the first time that the Pakistan government and the TTP have agreed to a ceasefire. Previously, in March 2014, a similar agreement was reached but it was short-lived as the Pakistan army launched a counterterrorist operation driving the group out.
First, PM Khan's alternative strategy. PM Khan seems to believe in a softer approach while dealing in proscribed groups such as the TTP. Although this may not be the ideal approach to many, he may be trying to use an alternative approach to address the issue given that the multiple strategies of the past have mostly failed. Additionally, with the Afghan Taliban on board with the negotiation, there is probably a more viable for talks.
Second, the ambiguity around the terms of negotiations has made the talks extremely controversial. Although this is not the first time Pakistan is trying to reach an agreement with the TTP, the group has once again only agreed to a short-term ceasefire, showing no indication that they are willing to lay down its arms and accept the Constitution. Besides this, TTP considers its beliefs and actions as the absolute truth and being righteous thus reaching common ground with groups will be extremely difficult. Additionally, given that the TTP has the blood of thousands of innocent Pakistanis on its hands, it will not be an easy task to gather public support for peace talks.