Sergio Restelli
Sergio Restelli

Pakistan’s capitulation to terrorist groups begins

Khalil-ur Rehman Haqqani in Kabul. Original image tweeted by Sarfaraz1201
Khalil-ur Rahman Haqqani in Kabul in August 2021. Image tweeted by @Sarfaraz1201

The Pakistan Government back to causing global concerns by talking truce with two major Islamist militant groups that are banned, yet defiant, whose activities have had ramifications beyond national borders. Domestic Pakistani critics, among them political parties, civil society and sections of the media have called it ‘surrender’ and ‘capitulation’.

Of the two, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been operating from tribal borderlands in neighbouring Afghanistan, while the younger Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has made fighting Islamophobia in the West on top of its agenda. It wants suspension of ties with France and expulsion of the French envoy because of action by Paris against Islamist hardliners at home.

“Temporary truce” was announced Friday (November 5) with the TTP whose violence over the last decade has caused 70,000 casualties as per official records. The government is also talking to TLP, thousands of whose activists are currently preparing to lay a siege of the national capital after seven persons were killed and 250 injured.

Media reports say the government is moving to revoke the ban on the two bodies. Prime Minister Imran Khan has said he would like to give them a “forgive and forget” amnesty and let their fighters “lead lives of common citizens.”

It is not clear if the all-powerful army that backs the Khan Government is wholeheartedly behind the two moves, although the Army Chief, Gen. Qaisar Javed Bajwa met the cleric, Mufti Muneebur Rahman, who mediated the truce with the TLP.

If the strategy is to make peace with the domestic militant groups to fight the Islamic State-Khorasan and Al Qaida, that is not being explained. The two moves are opaque and camouflaged with slogans, claims and allegations.

Cross-border violence has shot up in Pakistan since the Taliban took power in Kabul. “Pakistani military had launched a major operation against militants in North Waziristan, the last stronghold of the TTP, forcing militants to flee across the border into neighbouring Afghanistan. But the militants, using the sanctuary in the neighbouring country have been launching frequent cross-border attacks, assassinations, fire-raids and bombings in different parts of country.

Such attacks have seen an uptick since the Afghan Taliban takeover of Kabul in mid-August. Pakistan is in closed-door talks with the Afghan Taliban whom it helped return to power in Kabul in August, to get them to stop sheltering and supporting the TTP. The Khan Government says Kabul has agreed to let go the TTP, but will not act directly against its ideological partners whose fighters had fought alongside to help recapture power in Kabul.

Closed-door talks have taken place in Khost, Afghanistan, between TTP and officials of Pakistan. Helping in the process of reconciliation with the TTP is Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani of the interim government in Kabul who himself is leader of the Haqqani Network, a globally proscribed group of fighters. Analysts say these moves by layers of Islamist groups help each other, the ultimate objective of which remains unclear.

“Using the Haqqani network is tricky and the government will have to see which side of international law it falls on. Haqqani network has gotten us in trouble in the past,” security analyst Huma Bagai has warned.

Talks with the TTP and the TLP fall in the same pattern as those of the past governments in Pakistan over the last two decades. Military ruler Pervez Musharraf had talked to Sunni extremists, but had managed to push them into Afghanistan whose U.S. backed government did not trust him.

The Nawaz Sharif government had also preferred talks and reconciliation to any tough action against the TTP, till the group’s fighters stormed the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing 140, mostly children. The army-launched Zarb-e-Momin campaign that ‘cleaned’ the tribal lands on the Pakistan side, actually pushed the militants into Afghanistan.

Irrespective of who is in power, Kabul has generally been ineffective in containing these groups that enjoy tribal and ethnic loyalties on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Analysts say the advent of the Taliban in Kabul is a new factor but unlikely to change this basic ground reality. The main difference, and challenge, for Pakistan is that it has to deal with a ‘friendly’ Taliban government in Afghanistan.

A report on the 6th of Nov in The News International, quoting unnamed sources spoke of the Imran Khan Government’s readiness to make peace with the TLP. The initial agreement was to release five top TLP leaders from detention, but the government had made a list of 102 detainees.

The government’s critics point out that it has been treating Islamist extremists with kid gloves, while the state as a whole comes down heavily on tribal groups and groups like Pakistan Tahafuzz Movement (PTM) who are fighting for autonomy, justice and more democracy. PTM leader Manzoor Pashtin has been singled out for harsh punishment. Lawmaker Ali Wazir was convicted by an anti-terrorism court “using questionable means,” Dawn newspaper said in an editorial (November 5, 2021), calling it a “Duplicitous approach”.

The truce talks undid tough operations conducted by the Pakistan Rangers and the police, especially in the Punjab province who see this as a ‘betrayal’ by the federal government.

Many Pakistani security analysts have said the Khan Government, including its military mentors, have shown the absence of a clear policy and strategic confusion and pandemonium reigns while dealing with the militants, which will have tragic consequences for Pakistan, its democracy, Afghanistan and the world in the time to come.

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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