The story so far: The Pakistani Government announced on Monday that it had entered into a nationwide ceasefire with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the outlawed terrorist group also known as the Pakistan Taliban. This was agreed upon after weeks-long talks held in Afghanistan between the Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan and the TTP.
What are the terms of the truce?
- The truce will be observed between the Pakistan Government and the TTP for 30 days starting November 9
- The TTP wants to overthrow the Pakistani state and implement its hardline interpretation of the Sharia across the country
- The Afghan Taliban are facilitating talks between the two sides
The truce will be observed by both parties for 30 days starting November 9. A TTP spokesperson said in a statement that both sides agreed to form negotiation teams which will take the talks forward. While the Pakistani Government hasn’t offered more details, a month ago, Prime Minister Khan, in an interview with Turkish broadcaster TRT World, had said that his Government was in talks with some TTP groups as part of a “reconciliation process”. He said the Government would “forgive the TTP and that they will become normal citizens” if they agreed to lay down arms. According to a report in Radio Free Europe, the TTP demanded the release of 100 of its fighters from Pakistani prisons and the implementation of Sharia in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal regions. It’s not clear whether all of their demands were met, but reports indicate that Pakistan will release some TTP fighters from prison as part of confidence-building measures.
Who are the TTP?
The Pakistan Taliban emerged as an umbrella group of militant outfits in the country’s northwestern region bordering Afghanistan. As Pakistan, under pressure from the United States, carried out military operations in the tribal region from 2001-2014 to hunt for al-Qaeda and other militants who had crossed the border from Afghanistan after the 2001 NATO invasion, the local tribal groups launched an armed resistance. In 2007, this transformed into a larger platform of militants under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. An ethnic Pashtun, Mehsud was associated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (F), the Deobandi Islamic party of Maulana Fazlur Rahman. In the 1990s, after the Taliban took Kabul, Mehsud went to Afghanistan to fight the Northern Alliance, the united front of anti-Taliban militias that was backed by India, Russia and Iran. After the Taliban regime was toppled by the American invasion, Mehsud emerged as a major tribal leader in the Pakistani tribal belt, where he brought together five militia groups to form the TTP. He was killed in 2009 by a U.S. drone strike, but the organisation he founded continued to spread terror in Pakistan.
The TTP’s goals in Pakistan are similar to that of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The TTP wants to overthrow the Pakistani state and implement its hardline interpretation of the Sharia across the country. They had nurtured close ties with al-Qaeda, and had carried out some of the deadliest terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, including the 2014 Peshawar school massacre in which 147 people were killed, most of them students.The Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan appeared to have provided a fillip to the TTP, which has carried out a growing number of attacks on Pakistani security forces in recent months.
What’s the role of the Afghan Taliban?
While there are organisational differences between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistan Taliban, the two have ideological, tribal and seminary connections. Both have Pashtun roots and have links with the Deobandi seminary networks. The difference is that the Afghan Taliban’s focus was entirely on fighting the foreign troops in Afghanistan and the (previous) Afghan Government. They got support from the Pakistani military intelligence. On the other side, the Pakistani establishment saw the TTP as an enemy as the outfit wanted to fight the Pakistani troops. But Pakistan appears to be addressing this problem by reaching out to the TTP through the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan had shown interest in talks with the TTP in the past as well.
Will it hold?
It remains to be seen whether the truce will hold. And it’s still unclear what compromise the Government has made to reach temporary peace. But the Imran Khan Government’s decision to hold direct talks and reach a ceasefire with an organisation that is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Pakistanis, if not thousands, will raise questions on the Government’s policy towards terrorist and extremist groups. The ceasefire comes days after the Government held talks and reached an agreement with another extremist group, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. Earlier this year, Mr. Khan’s Government had expelled the French Ambassador to the country after the TLP carried out violent protests over “blasphemous” cartoons published in France.
Now, the ceasefire with the TTP, the deadliest of the two, will strengthen the criticism that Mr. Khan is pursuing “a policy of appeasement” with the hardliners.