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Pakistan needs to negotiate with TTP from the position of strength

Islamabad—The speakers at a consultation unanimously viewed that Pakistan needs to be “assertive” and should negotiate with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from the “position of strength.”

Most participants were critical of the demand of proscribed TTP about reversal of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). They said that Pakistan should only talk to the group on the terms of surrender.

The lawmakers, academicians, former diplomats, retired army officers, journalists, and experts on security, and Afghan affairs participated in the discussion on “Afghan peace and reconciliation: Pakistan’s interests and policy options” organized by Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS).

The main themes of the consultation include “the TTP’s indefinite ceasefire and the role of the Taliban” and “Can the Taliban deliver on governance, security, and intra-Afghan reconciliation?”

The speakers had divergent views about any outcome of Pakistan’s ongoing talks with the banned group and the majority was not optimistic that Pakistan could either succeed to seal any peace deal with the TTP or any agreement would last longer even if signed. Many questioned the composition of the jirga that held talks with the group and argued that expectations of Pakistan were wrong that the Afghan Taliban would use their influence on the TTP to sign a peace deal with it.

In the first week of June, the banned TTP had formally announced an indefinite ceasefire with Pakistan following two days of talks with a grand tribal jirga in Kabul. The group has set a major condition of reversal of FATA’s merger with KP to cut any peace deal with Pakistan.

Former Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi opening the debate said that the option of jirga to negotiate with the militant group could work because it had the support of the government as well as the military establishment and Afghan Taliban were mediators of these talks. “There are chances of some breakthrough.” He rejected the notion that the TTP and the Afghan Taliban were two sides of the same coin.

President National Party and former chief minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik Baloch called for adopting the policy of co-existence and urged that Pakistan would have to revisit its internal and external policies to attain peace in Balochistan and the entire country. “We need to make the parliament powerful to debate and decide on matters (of security).”

Former corps commander and inspector general (IG) of Frontier Corps Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan was not in favour of talks with the banned group. “If we have to talk to them, we should only negotiate on the terms of surrender,” he said. Referring to the condition of the TTP about reversal of FATA merger, he showed his surprise and questioned how a militant group can demand to govern a certain territory of Pakistan?

Former National Coordinator of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) Ihsan Ghani was not hopeful that Pakistan would be successful in signing any peace agreement with the group. “If this happened, any such agreement would be an eyewash and short-lived.”

Senator Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar noted that there has to be a uniform policy to end violence in the country. He said that some practical “mode of reconciliation is still missing in our policy.”

Former National Security Adviser Lt Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua argued that the TTP was a “defeated phenomenon.” He questioned why Pakistan has started negotiations with the group so early and put an unnecessary burden on the Afghan Taliban? He added that they should learn how to seek the closure of conflict?

Ex-ambassador Aziz Ahmad Khan said that there looked to be no chances at the moment that the Taliban would form a broad-based government in Afghanistan and offer other stakeholders to share power with them. “Pakistan needs to deal with the Afghan Taliban pragmatically.”

Former foreign secretary Inam-ul-Haq viewed that Pakistan should recognize Afghanistan as an independent and separate country and deal with it in the same manner. He refuted the idea that Pakistan should give away a part of its territory to TTP through any peace deal.

Former first deputy speaker of the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament Mirwais Yasini sought Pakistan’s support to help them attain peace in their country. “I don’t see that there is a viable administration in Kabul,” he said.

Director PIPS Muhammad Amir Rana in his concluding remarks said that dialogues make narratives and the institute would continue to hold such debates.