June 1, 2022
ISLAMABAD – AN indefinite extension of the ceasefire between the government and the banned TTP has once again refocused attention on the status of negotiations between the state and the terrorists.
After years of battling the banned TTP, the state had reopened channels of communication with the TTP, facilitated by the Afghan Taliban. However, if we review the reported demands of the militants, it is easy to understand why a UNSC report has termed prospects of peace between the TTP and the state of Pakistan “bleak”.
Simply put, if the demands were to be met, it would amount to a surrender of the state’s authority over parts of the erstwhile tribal belt where the militants are active.
Among the TTP’s demands are withdrawal of troops from the former Fata area, reversal of the merger of the tribal areas with KP as well as the enforcement of their version of Sharia through the Nizam-i-Adl regulation in Malakand. In fact, some high-ranking militants have reportedly already been released as a gesture of peace.
However, militant groups should not be allowed to dictate to the state where security forces can and cannot go. Moreover, the merger of Fata and KP in 2018 came about as part of a constitutional process, and cannot be undone to accommodate the TTP’s whims. As for the enforcement of Sharia in the region, a similar experiment was tried in 2009, and fell through very soon, with the military having to move in to quell a rebellion instigated by the terrorists.
Considering this chequered history, prospects of a durable peace with the militants are bleak, unless the TTP promises to renounce violence and join the mainstream and respect constitutional norms.
The state is confronted with a dilemma as with the fall of the US-backed regime in Afghanistan last year, the TTP now has friends and protectors in the shape of the Taliban rulers of Kabul. As the UN report points out, there are up to 4,000 TTP fighters holed up in provinces bordering Pakistan, while another estimate states that this year alone, the TTP has carried out over 40 attacks in the country, resulting in nearly 80 deaths.
The problem with negotiating with extremist groups is that they will seldom stick to their word, as history shows, and will return to violence on the slightest pretext. Moreover, even if the militant leadership commits to peace, there is no guarantee that others within the organisation will also honour their pledges. Again, we have seen this happen in the past as splinter groups have branched out to continue to fight.
We must also ask if the state is willing to forgive a group that has the blood of thousands of citizens on its hands. Confronted with these inconvenient realities, the state needs to handle the negotiations with care, and ensure that any peace deal respects the Constitution and the democratic process.