The Government of Pakistan (GOP) is currently carrying out negotiations with the Afghanistan-based terrorist organisation, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). A temporary ceasefire has been announced.
The TTP has thus far operated from a very conducive strategic environment within Afghanistan where it retreated to after being summarily routed by the Pakistan military through its Operation Zarb-e-Azb. It enjoyed direct and intimate support from its benefactors/handlers—the US and its allies, the erstwhile Ashraf Ghani government, the RAW-NDS Combine and a plethora of hostile western intelligence agencies. Under their tutelage, it carried out its vile and heinous terrorism campaign against Pakistan with rank impunity.
The strategic environment in Afghanistan has since undergone a dramatic paradigm shift, much to its detriment. The US and its allies have beaten a hasty retreat while the Ashraf Ghani government predictably deserted its station. The ANDSF too collapsed without a whimper.
The Afghan Taliban are now in power in Kabul and suddenly the TTP finds itself in an uncertain, progressively hostile strategic environment. Its erstwhile benefactors have all absconded and Pakistan, its nemesis, has made a strong ingress into Kabul. The sudden loss of its close political and financial sponsors, the disruption of its varied supply chains of weapons, arms, equipment, explosives, recruits et al must have demoralised the TTP and cramped its capacity to continue attacking Pakistan.
Furthermore, the potential loss of a safe base to launch terrorist attacks into Pakistan will have furthered its helplessness and plight. Its usefulness to its sponsors will have reduced substantially. With its benefactors gone and the strategic environment fast deteriorating, the TTP must now be finding itself in an increasingly weak and vulnerable position. Therefore, its apparent compulsion to sue for peace.
The GOP must correctly assess the TTP’s intentions. Is it carrying out negotiations under duress from the Afghan Taliban, is it genuinely repenting or is it a deep strategic manoeuvre to gain further time and space within Pakistan to regroup and strike at a more opportune moment and in more conducive environments? Will it turn out to be a Trojan Horse? Deja vu?
The GOP however seems to have not heeded the lessons learnt from numerous “peace agreements” arrived at with various terrorist groups over the years. Why does it feel constrained to negotiate with the TTP at this particular point in time when it is clearly most susceptible? Its policy and strategy ought to have been to comprehensively exterminate this menace. Period.
It should have denied it another lease of life and credibility by not negotiating with it. If it had decided to negotiate then it ought to have laid down very strict and defining pre-conditions and only spoken from an unquestionable position of overwhelming strength. It apparently has not. Furthermore, it must remain wary of granting the TTP too many concessions just to appease the interlocutors, the Afghan Taliban.
What is the declared end state of the GOP’s policy and what are its ways and means of getting there? Does it want to simply neutralise the TTP, stop its terrorist activities against Pakistan and then reintegrate its members into our society; the society which it has compulsively detested and ruthlessly attacked with such undisguised venom and hostility? Has it prepared the nation for it and acquired broad support from across the national and political spectrums? Is it a whole-of-the-nation approach?
Will the society just accept them without any reaction? Can there be a more simplistic and naïve approach to such a complex problem? If true, it borders on the incredulous and the insane. The GOP has to act from a position of undeniable strength and impose its will on the TTP if it does not submit to its diktat.
It must show its readiness and willingness to take the battle to the terrorists, again. Statements like the state cannot be perpetually at war are a sign of weakness and helplessness. The state cannot be perpetually at the mercy of terrorists, either. The state must demonstrate its determination to secure its interests and annihilate all threats to its sovereignty regardless from where they emanate.
Mainstreaming such terrorist groups and terrorism has many pitfalls. The TTP exploited religion for its purposes. If it is allowed to be reintegrated and rehabilitated in society (and eventually body politic?) without paying due penance, it will set precedents which will be hard to follow. Other religion and sect-based extremist parties/organisations will now seek similar routes to political credence and credibility. Religious extremism and sectarianism will skyrocket in our society and body politic.
How these former terrorists will be accepted and assimilated in our society remains an unanswered question. Can we forget the massacres at APS Peshawar and dozens of other such tragedies, ever?
What can the TTP offer Pakistan even if it, hypothetically speaking, reconciles with it? Will the TTP give up its avowed aim and objective of imposing its own version of the Shariah in Pakistan? Will it submit itself to the Constitution and the law of Pakistan, unconditionally? Will it lay down its arms fully? Will it hand over its members guilty of serious crimes to be tried under Pakistan law?
The TTP has slept with the enemy; it has connived with India, our forsworn enemy and other hostile countries/agencies and waged war against the state of Pakistan. This is sedition, pure and simple. Will all be just forgiven and forgotten with no recourse to justice for Pakistan and its people? Will the TTP tell the world all details of its benefactors/handlers and their modus operandi?
Crucially, the international community will see it as a step backwards. It will try to keep Pakistan from going down this particular path to “reconciliation”. It will be further alarmed on the eventual advent of religious extremism into Pakistan’s body politic, its consequent radicalisation and its potential implications for the eventual control of Pakistan’s strategic assets.
They will feel that having failed to browbeat Pakistan into submission, the religious extremists/terrorists are now attempting a new approach to get into the corridors of power—through the political system.