Was Pakistan Govt Kept in the Dark about Army & TTP's 'Peace Deal'?

The Taliban in Malakand have privately told journalists that their agreement with Pakistan has been finalised.
Gul Bukhari
Opinion
Published:

Image for representation. 

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(Illustration by Kamran Akhter)

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The infamous “peace agreement” the Pakistan Army undertook with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) earlier in May this year has finally been leaked by the TTP. Ever since October last year, and soon after the fall of Kabul, several secret delegations from Pakistan have visited Kabul in order to try to stem the intensifying attacks of the TTP inside Pakistan, via peace negotiations. However, these negotiations keep breaking apart after short periods of ceasefire.

After helping install the Taliban regime in Kabul, Rawalpindi had hoped that the Taliban would return the favour by reining in the TTP and somehow forcing it to recognise and accept the Pakistani state and surrender to it. Instead, not only safe havens were not disrupted, but thousands of TTP prisoners were released. According to reports, there were 718 terror attacks inside Pakistan in 2021, the bulk of which were claimed by the TTP. The watershed moment of the fall of Kabul led to the strengthening of the TTP, which has carried out the bulk of 434 attacks from January through June this year.

Secret Negotiations

After details of secret negotiations got around in late May, Parliament was briefed in late June and in early July upon Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto’s insistence that Parliament be involved and the process be overseen by it. Had a handful of loudmouths like myself not raised a stink about the specifics of the secret deal with a terror outfit signing away fundamental rights of citizens in return for “peace”, the matter may never even have reached Parliament.

After those two briefings, though, we have not seen any evidence of oversight. And the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including most former FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) regions and the Malakand Division, has been overrun by the TTP.

A few weeks ago, an Awami National Party (ANP) leader made the alarming disclosure that ministers and senior leaders of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), including former National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar, are paying ‘bhatta’ (protection money) to the TTP.

A Presidential Pardon No One Knew About

The seven-page agreement titled “Negotiations between Govt of Pakistan and the TTP” is dated 9 May 2022 (first sitting, Kabul, Khost Agenda) and 15-18 May (second sitting, Kabul). Yet, the undertaking given to Parliament that ‘no extra-constitutional concessions would be given to the TTP in the ongoing dialogue and any deal made with the group would be subject to the parliamentary approval’ was after several points had already been agreed upon in May.

Therefore, by the time the military and intelligence leadership came to brief Parliament, they had already agreed to release an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners. Earlier, two top commanders, Muslim Khan (sentenced to death for killing 31 civil and military personnel) and Mehmood Khan (sentenced to 20 years for kidnapping Chinese engineers), had already been secretly released to the Afghan Taliban, the mediators, to bring the TTP to the table for these very talks spearheaded by Corp Commander Peshawar and former DG ISI Lt Gen Faiz Hameed. In the second parliamentary briefing in early July, one parliamentarian managed to ferret out of the army high command that the two commanders had been – shockingly – freed under a presidential pardon that no one knew about.

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'Exit Route' for Militants

Also agreed upon in May were steps such as the withdrawal of 60% of military personnel from border areas and their retreat and confinement to cantonments, the creation of a safe passage for TTP members for moving freely between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the decision to conclude and finalise the negotiations within 15 days, during which there would be a ceasefire. In response to the demand for free passage and a safe haven from the Afghan Taliban in case of hostilities breaking out, the Pakistan army left it to the two Taliban groups to work it out between themselves, while committing to providing exit routes to the TTP “according to Pakistani law”. Clearly, there is no law in existence that provides for exit routes for militants, and thus, this can only be taken to mean that a soft loophole has been provided for.

According to the agreement back in May, several demands of the TTP were still on the table to be resolved. These included the free movement of the Taliban across Pakistan with their weapons, the implementation of “Nizam-e-Adal” in Malakand Division, the reversal of the FATA merger with KP, reparation for damages inflicted, non-implementation of “unIslamic” articles of the Pakistani Constitution on them, withdrawal of ongoing cases against the TTP, and the removal of the TTP from ‘banned’ category in Pakistan and the United Nations. The deal shows that the army agreed to work towards getting the TTP ‘un-banned’.

This was followed up with further negotiations and meetings between ‘jirgas’ from Pakistan and the TTP and the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani jirgas comprised senior military and government officials, a smattering of parliamentarians (albeit allegedly without the knowledge of their political parties), and tribal elders from Pakistan.

There is no word on the outcome of the latter meetings, but on the ground, we see that the TTP has fanned out in KP, including in Peshawar and Malakand, with a sharp rise in target killings, and is operating check-posts and collecting protection money.

Pak Army Is Buying Time

Just a week ago, a video surfaced on social media, purportedly showing two Pakistan Army majors and a DSP Swat in the captivity of the TTP in Matta, Swat, Malakand Division. In the video, one Taliban captor asks the injured DSP whether he had not been informed about them. The answer was in the negative, implying that the Taliban were in the area according to an agreement of which the local law enforcers knew nothing, and hence the fighting in which these officers were captured.

Separately, the Taliban in Malakand have privately told journalists that their agreement with Pakistan has been finalised. Yet, there is no evidence of the Pakistani Parliament having given a go-ahead, with the political coalition government mired in fighting off the PTI and the courts.

In the net analysis, it appears that at the height of unpopularity and in the midst of an economic meltdown and a political crisis of its own making, the Pakistan army is unwilling to take the fight to the TTP and would rather buy time with ill-judged deals that it cannot publicly concede. The unadmitted surrender has already begun another cycle of violence in the Northwest region of Pakistan, which can easily spread inward. But it will likely be sold to the public as peace.

(Gul Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist and rights activist. She tweets @GulBukhari. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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