Pakistan: TTP And Desperate Negotiations – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On May 23, 2022, two soldiers were killed when terrorists attacked Security Forces (SFs) in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
On May 17, 2022, terrorists shot dead two Policemen in the Ghazni Khel area of Lakki Marwat District. The terrorists managed to escape along with the weapons of the dead Policemen.
On May 15, 2022, three Pakistan Army soldiers and as many children were killed in a suicide blast in the vicinity of Miranshah in the North Waziristan District. In a brief statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) identified the killed soldiers as Lance Havaldar Zubair Qadir, Sepoy Uzair Asfar and Sepoy Qasim Maqsood from Multan. The killed children were identified as 11-year-old Ahmed Hassan, eight-year-old Ahsan and four-year-old Anum.
On April 20, 2022, three Policemen were killed in a gun attack by terrorists at Bara Ajab Talab check post in Khyber District. One terrorist was also killed in retaliatory fire by the Policemen.
On April 13, 2022, seven soldiers were killed when terrorists ambushed an SF vehicle in the Data Khel tehsil (revenue unit) of North Waziristan District. The terrorists used a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and assault guns in the attack.
On April 11, 2022, five Policemen were killed in a rocket attack carried out by terrorists on a Police van near Chowk Yadgar of the Kulachi area in Dera Ismail Khan District. Deputy Superintendent Police (DSP) Kulachi Fazal Subhan sustained serious injuries.
In the 58 days since the launch of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) Operation Al-Badar on April 2, 2022, (data till May 29, 2022) at least 39 SF personnel have been killed, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). During the 56 days preceding, terrorists had killed 24 SF personnel in KP.
On March 30, 2022, TTP had announced the launch of its operation against law-enforcement agencies from the start of Holy month of Ramadan, which commenced on April 2, 2022. The statement declared that the main target of the offensive would be Pakistani SFs and their facilitators. The statement added that Operation Al-Badr would include suicide attacks, ambushes, bombings, counter-attacks, targeted attacks, as well as laser and sniper attacks. Though the statement did not mention whether the Operation would cover the whole of Pakistan or only KP, attacks have only been reported from KP, clearly suggesting that the Province was the focus of the operation.
At a time when the TTP has increased its attacks on the SFs in KP, the Pakistani establishment is making efforts to buy peace.
Indeed, a 10-day ceasefire agreement, starting May 1, had been reached between the Army and the TTP on the account of Eid (May 2, 2022). On May 10, TTP announced that the ceasefire had been extended by another five days and stated that new directives would be issued on May 16. Though no announcement was made on May 16, on May 18, TTP announced that the ceasefire had been extended till May 30. In a statement shared with the media via Whatsapp, TTP ‘spokesman’ Mohammad Khurasani, declared,
Talks are under way between the committees of the TTP and the government of Pakistan. The committees called for a ceasefire by both sides in light of the ongoing talks. Therefore, keeping in view the demand, both sides have announced a ceasefire until May 30.
Talking about the committees Khurasani disclosed that a 32-member committee of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan and a 16-member committee from the Malakand division held talks with the TTP on May 13 and 14. He also revealed that the Afghan Taliban was mediating between the two sides.
On the same day, the Afghan Taliban also confirmed the talks in Kabul, as Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, tweeted,
Talks were held in Kabul between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban Movement of Pakistan with the mediation of the Islamic Emirate. In addition to making significant progress on related issues during the talks, a temporary ceasefire was also agreed upon. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan strives for the goodwill of the negotiating process and wishes both sides tolerance and flexibility.
Neither the Pakistan Government nor the Army has yet given any official statement on the on-going peace-talks.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, the Pakistan Government has released 30 TTP jail inmates, including Hazrat Ali, Laiq Shah and Shahabullah from North Waziristan District; Eid Muhammad, Noor Aslam and Gulzar Khan from South Waziristan District; Sher Zaman, Muhammad Anwar, Muhammad Hamayun, Bahram, Samiullah and Aijaz from Dera Ismail Khan District; Shah Zareen and Saeedullah from Bajaur District; Akbar Zeb, Fazl Haq, Fazl Rabbi and Mehboob Ali from Swat District; Bakht Nabi, Khan Zareen and Ahmed Shah from Shangla District; Muhammadullah from Khyber District; and Ahmed Shah, Saeed-ul-Islam, Abdullah, Rahimullah, Zakirullah and Ahmed Saeed from Dir District. It is significant that no official sources have yet confirmed the news regarding the release of the TTP militants.
Earlier also, the Pakistan Government had tried to negotiate peace, with the TTP with the help of the Afghan Taliban. As a result, both sides agreed on a month-long ceasefire between November 9 and December 9. However, on December 9, TTP declined to extend the ceasefire with the Government, alleging that the state forces had not only failed to implement the decisions reached between the two sides but, on the contrary, had conducted raids in Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Bajaur, Swabi and North Waziristan, killing and detaining many TTP fighters. TTP consequently declared, “Under these circumstances, it is not possible to extend the ceasefire.” Mufti Noor Wali Mahsud announced an end to the ceasefire and asked his fighters to resume attacks.
During the month-long ceasefire in 2021, though five SF personnel were killed in three terrorism-related incidents, no TTP terrorist had been killed, according to data available in open sources. Indeed, during the ceasefire, the Government reportedly released more than 100 TTP prisoners as a “goodwill gesture,” to reciprocate the group’s acceptance of the ceasefire. While Islamabad is evidently trying to buy peace with TTP, particularly in KP, as well as across the country at large, with the help of the Afghan Taliban, the possibilities of success remain limited.
It is useful to recall here that TTP, which had lost some of its strength after Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched on June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the Jinnah International Airport attack on June 8, 2014 and subsequent operations, has engineered a resurgence coinciding with the Afghan Taliban’s ascendency in Afghanistan. Since the signing of the Doha Deal between the Afghan Taliban and the US on February 29, 2020, TTP started re-emerging as a major challenge for the security establishment in Pakistan, but Islamabad kept ignoring the threat, believing that it would be an easy task for it to handle once the Taliban assumed power. Contrary to the Pakistan military establishment’s assessment, violence is now escalating. According to Pakistan, TTP operates out of the bordering areas of Afghanistan, and Rawalpindi assumed that its ‘proxy’ – the Afghan Taliban – would help crush the rebel movement once in power.
While TTP’s rampage still continues, the Government’s decision to sit again to negotiate with TTP for peace reconfirms that Pakistan is approaching the problem from a position of weakness. Rawalpindi’s hand has weakened further due to the ongoing political and economic crisis in the country. The negotiations with TTP, with the Afghan Taliban mediating, are desperate measures that are likely to fail once again.
* Tushar Ranjan Mohanty, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management