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Cracks in Pakistan’s Taliban after PM Khan’s admission of peace talks

ISLAMABAD: Cracks have emerged in the Pakistani Taliban after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s acknowledgement that his government was in peace talks with certain factions of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan in an interview with TRT World.

Prime Minister Imran Khan clearly stated that his government had offered some groups within the TTP to lay down arms and, “then we forgive them and they become normal citizens.”

PM Khan reiterated his long held view: “I do not believe in military solutions. I’m anti military solutions.”

Such an olive branch by the Prime Minister was not unexpected since the President of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi had made peace overtures with the Pakistani Taliban but they were coldly rejected.

PM Khan’s admission that Islamabad is currently in talks with certain groups of the TTP has created division in the loosely tied umbrella militant organisation.

Reports began to emerge from North Waziristan, stating that Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s group had announced a ceasefire for 20 days. Hafiz Gul Bahadar was one of the most trusted men of TTP founder, Baitullah Mehsud and has even served as his Naib Emir (deputy leader).

Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who may be considered the most influential military commander in North Waziristan has positively responded to Pakistan’s offer of peace, signalling that there are elements of the Pakistani Taliban which are willing to come to some sort of arrangement with the Pakistani government.

However, as soon as these reports from North Waziristan began to circulate, a TTP spokesman rejected any ceasefire and asked TTP militants to continue attacks reflecting the beginning of small cracks in the TTP nucleus.

Senior journalists Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud and Saleem Mehsud tweeted the TTP’s statement which claimed that the TTP was an organised movement and not a victim of factionalism and that the TTP fighters should continue their attacks wherever they are.

“Journalists who are covering the Pakistani Taliban were somehow aware of the talks process taking place between Pakistani government and different factions of Pakistani Taliban. The Afghan Taliban had first proposed the idea,” Ihsanullah Mehsud told The Pakistan Daily in an exclusive conversation.

Mehsud questioned the prudence of PM Khan’s statement. “Making it public by the Prime Minister will not be taken as a prudent move by the Pakistani security establishment as things are in the initial stage and can cause regional spoilers to make the process derailed or sabotaged.”

DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed (left), Prime Minister Imran Khan (center), Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa (right). Photo via PM Office.

“I also feel that without engaging the TTP which claimed almost 95 % attacks in recent months across Pakistan, talks would remain futile. Engaging the TTP for talks should be the main focus of the Pakistani government,” Mehsud, who covers Kyber Pakhtunkhwa for The New York Times told The Pakistan Daily.

On the other hand, counter-terrorism expert, Faran Jeffery questioned: “If Pakistan wanted the TTP on the negotiating table, what benefit did it derive from the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Kabul?”

FJ also asked whether it was right or not to negotiate with terrorists who had killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis.

“TTP’s active fighters are between 1000-2000, so can any armed group of one or two thousand people strongarm the state?”, FJ asked.

Speaking to The Pakistan Daily, FJ said: “The Afghan Taliban are the ideological allies of the TTP, they are not the ideological allies of the Pakistani state. If they mediate negotiations between Pakistan and the TTP, they may protect the interests of TTP rather than Pakistan.”

FJ asked whether the Pakistani state was willing to give control of places like Bajaur or Waziristan to the TTP militants who would then impose their own order independent of the writ of the Pakistani state.

“Then if tomorrow, the people of Lal Masjid, Sipah e Sahaba or Saad Rizvi whose followers call him Amir ul Momineen come, will the state also give in to their demands?”

The TTP began a fresh offensive against the Pakistani state shortly after the Afghan Taliban came into power in Afghanistan.

Islamabad has been considered to have the ability to strategically influence the Afghan Taliban but it remains to be seen whether a political solution between the Pakistani state and the TTP can come into fruition.

It has been speculated that India may try to use the TTP as a proxy against Pakistan and create instability in Afghanistan given its strategic retreat from the war-torn country after the fall of the Ghani government.

The Emir of the TTP, Noor Wali Mehsud has also appeared in a rare interview on CNN fairly recently, narrating his war against the Pakistani state to a global audience.

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