Does GHQ reach TTP: Negotiations or Surrender?

GHQ is compelled to mend the fence with the TTP.
Keywords: Conflict, Afghanistan, Pakistan, TTP, USA, NATO, War, Imran Khan, ISI, GHQ, Taliban, Military, Security, 
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On October 21, 2021, the then Pak Premier Imran Khan told Ali Mustafa of a Turkish news channel that his government was negotiating with the banned TTP based on two fundamental premises (a) TTP fighters lay down their arms, and (b) reintegrate into Pak society as peaceful and law-abiding citizens.  

Almost identical bombast was doled out by the American and NATO forces fighting the Taliban. Then one fine morning, they abandoned the huge war material dumped at Bagram airport and took it to their heels. 

Imran’s tantrum was still ringing in the air when the then President and the foreign minister of Pakistan both hastened to announce that talks with the TTP were in the offing.  But they did not repeat Imran’s bluster. Perhaps the GHQ had advised them to be discreet.

Did the Pakistan army initiate the talks with the TTP from a position of power?  GHQ liked to create that impression but that was not the case. Observers went on scratching the bottom of the issue. GHQ was coming to grips with harsh realities. It had expected the Afghan Taliban in Kabul to repay the debt of gratitude for extending clandestine support to their fight against Americans and yet keeping the Americans in good humour. It was President Trump who finally understood Islamabad’s perfidy and cancelled three billion dollars of military aid to Pakistan. 

Yet in their two-decade-old fight with the Americans, the Taliban never approached the GHQ for military support. Conversely, the GHQ was eager to be owned by the Taliban where it waded its way through its old beneficiary, the Haqqani network.  The then ISI chief Lt General Faiz Hameed flew to Kabul to iron out serious differences between Sirajuddin Haqqani and Mulla Akhund over the issue of distribution of portfolios of the Taliban cabinet. 

Feeling elated that he had succeeded in brokering peace between the warring factions of the Afghan Taliban, ISI Chief Faiz nursed the illusion that the Taliban would run their affairs in consonance with Islamabad’s desire. He was gleeful that both ambitions of his organisation seemed to have been met viz. firstly, installing a regime in Kabul that would dance to its tune, and secondly, bringing about the ouster of India from Afghanistan once and for all.  

The Afghan Taliban worked towards stabilising their control and administration in Afghanistan playing their cards deftly. They desisted from making any statement that would put them in an embarrassing situation particularly as far as their domestic policy was concerned. This created a false sense of satisfaction among the Islamabad policy planners, who thought the time had come to extract political mileage from Afghan bonhomie but they were soon to realise that it was nothing but naivety to treat the Afghan Taliban with kid gloves. 

Clarifying their parameters of sovereignty, the Taliban did not mince words in telling the world community that the TTP were part of them and had played a valuable role in the Afghan struggle for independence.  They unhesitatingly said that the TTP like the Afghan Taliban had accepted the one-eyed Mulla Omar of Kandahar as the supreme leader of their faction. They had also wholeheartedly endorsed Mulla Omar’s aspiration for the promulgation of the sharia law. Not only that, the Taliban went a step further and claimed that Al Qaeda was a partner in the struggle they were waging against the Pakistan army. After all, the Taliban had provided a haven to the fleeing Al Qaeda fighters when the Americans bombarded Tora Bora heights. suspecting the Al Qaeda presence there.

What is the core agenda of the TTP that has brought them into a confrontation with the Pakistan army? Essentially, the issue falls into the geopolitical and geo-ethnic realm. India’s British rulers had understood that the Pukhtun population along the Punjab-Afghanistan border enjoyed strong ethnic bonds among themselves and aspired for the self-rule of the entire Waziristan. They had, therefore, created the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), provided annual grants to several tribal chiefs of the area who held sway over their warlike tribesmen, granted them autonomy and strictly avoided interfering with their socio-cultural system. After the partition of India in 1947, NWFP became part of the dominion of Pakistan. Relations between the more prominent tribal chiefs of NWFP and the Pakistani rulers did not remain cordial primarily because the Pakistani rulers did not recognize the historical right of the people of NWFP to their autonomy. Pakistan tried to create a wedge between the Pakhtuns on the two sides of the Durand Line. 

The most volatile issue that can erupt one day between the Afghan Taliban and the GHQ is the Durand Line. The Pakhtuns never accepted the Durand Line. No government in Kabul has accepted it. Its rejection is among the fundamental demands of the Pakhtuns and the rulers in Kabul. Soon after the partition of India, King Zahir Shah of Afghanistan supported the aspirations of the powerful tribal chiefs of the NWFP to rise in revolt against Pakistan and join Afghanistan.  

However, while deciding to upgrade armed resistance to Pakistan authorities, the TTP concretised the agenda of resistance as follows: (a) fight and demolish the structure of the Pakistan army because it functioned almost like an ally of the US – a known anti-Islamic power. (b) promulgate the sharia law in Pakistan (c) reject the Durand Line and reunite the artificially divided Pakhtun families on either side of the Durand Line (d) set free all TTP activists captured during the fighting with Pakistani troops and lodged in Afghan jails, and compensate the families that have lost their bread earners, and lastly undo the unification of KP (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa).

Pakistan has a deep political interest in maintaining the Durand Line. It divides the Pakhtuns of traditional Waziristan, weakening them politically and militarily. The Durand Line helps Pakistan’s divide and rule policy. Taliban are fiercely opposed to the fencing of the Afghan-Pakistan border. They have removed it at several places and physically disallowed Pak Rangers to continue the project. TTP are united with the Afghan Taliban in the rejection of the line. Pakistan recently conducted aerial bombardment of two places in the provinces of Kunar and Khost alleging that the TTP had assembled there and, in consultation with the Afghan Taliban, were planning incursions into Khyber Pukhtunkhwa territory.  Afghan Taliban warned the Pakistan army that throwing a challenge at them meant war and they would not hesitate to fight.

Sources say that the GOP had no issue with some of the TTP’s demands, but two major points of disagreement stuck out: the reversal of the FATA merger and the disbandment of the TTP as an armed militant group.

In the course of peace talks, the GOP delegate argued that the merger brought about through a constitutional amendment was not up for discussion and that tribal people were the main important stakeholders.

TTP refuted the argument saying it has documents attesting to the commitment made by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with tribal people guaranteeing their autonomy in an independent Pakistan. Significantly, the reversal of the FATA merger is critical, and TTP is not ready to compromise on this particular demand. The disbandment of the TTP is another make-or-break issue. The government delegation has made it plain that no armed group would be allowed to enter Pakistan territory or operate as such. Options are being discussed and the IEA is fully on-board in this regard. In a recent statement, it has categorically said that the group would not accept any compromise on the pre-merger, ‘independent’ status of ex-FATA. The statement is that “if the Pakistan government and its security agencies want peace, they would have to restore its previous status”. All this shows that the parties are holding talks but it appears almost impossible to come to a lasting solution.

Defeated in her hopes of Kabul toeing the line of GHQ, facing direct physical resistance from the Afghan Taliban and TTP combined, embarrassed by the rise of Ansar Ghazvatul Khurasan which has openly said that destruction of the Pak army is among their goals, Islamabad fears an Afghan Taliban-TTP-BLA-Khurasan undeclared alliance. All these developments have forced the GHQ to offer an olive branch to the TTP. The TTP leadership has strong bonds with various Afghan Taliban commanders and groups, who deeply admired the TTP’s sacrifices in fighting against the US forces and the US allies in Afghanistan. This pro-TTP lobby within the Taliban is influential and crosses tribal and regional cleavages. The chances of lasting peace, therefore, are bleak. The situation on the ground is grim. 

On 29 May, the Statesman published an excerpt of the report: “The United Nations Security Council report has warned that Afghanistan-based Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) posed a threat to Pakistan.” Pakistani newspaper Dawn, citing the 13th report of the UNSC Monitoring Team on Afghanistan TTP, has focused on a long-term campaign against the Pakistani state with its several thousand fighters in Afghanistan. According to the report, TTP constituted the largest component of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, with their number estimated to be several thousand.”

“TTP has arguably benefited the most of all the foreign extremist groups in Afghanistan from the Taliban takeover. It has conducted numerous attacks and operations in Pakistan…” the UN report added.

The UN Monitoring Team’s earlier report had focused on the global threat posed by Al-Qaeda, and related groups as well as the one before that had also underlined increasing cross-border attacks by TTP from the Afghan soil as a result of the reunification of the terrorist group in Afghanistan. Earlier, TTP was responsible for the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in which over 150 children were killed.

Separately, quoting information provided by a “Member State,” the Monitoring Team report mentioned the presence of the formally defunct Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) in Afghanistan. According to the publication, these details were not given in its several previous reports.” The world has trusted the word of the Afghan Taliban that it would not allow foreigners to use the Afghan soil for conducting activities against a third country.

The annual report of the 1988 Taliban Sanctions Committee Monitoring Team noted TTP’s linkages with the Afghan Taliban, explained how the group benefitted from the fall of the Ashraf Ghani regime and touched upon its relations with other terrorist groups operating from Afghanistan. The banned TTP, the report noted, had up to 4,000 fighters based in east and south-east areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and made up the largest group of foreign fighters based there.

This was the team’s first report for the committee since the Taliban takeover of Kabul last year. Its original focus was on the Taliban’s internal politics, its finances, relations with Al-Qaeda, Daesh, and other terrorist groups, and the implementation of the UNSC sanctions.

The temporary ceasefire has been extended but the question is whether the ceasefire will hold and whether the sides will adhere to the clauses of the agreement. To find a proper answer to this question, we should keep in mind the demands of the TTP and the scope of these being met by the Government of Pakistan (GOP). The release of prisoners and presidential pardon to two key militant commanders, including TTP Swat spokesman Muslim Khan, was one demand. Compensation for the dead and wounded, enforcement of Sharia regulation in Malakand, withdrawal of the military from the borders and reversal of the FATA merger into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are the key demands from the TTP side.

In conclusion, we cannot say that the ground situation in the frontier region is conducive to meeting the needs of contemporary society. The GHQ is beset with numerous problems, most of these of its own creation. The divisive elements within the Pakistan army can take a stance that will complicate the situation for the army. Internal dissensions are adversely affecting the working of ISI, the bureaucracy and the mainstream political parties. The economic crunch prevents the retrieval of lost prestige and Islamic countries including the OIC, again a house divided against itself, offer nothing more than lip service. GHQ is compelled to mend the fence with the TTP. 

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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