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CWA # 575, 28 October 2021

Pakistan Reader
Talking to the Pakistani Taliban: What did Imran say? And what does it mean?

  D. Suba Chandran

While the others were talking about an idea of talking to the TTP, or giving them an amnesty, Imran’s statement refers to an ongoing process. Is the rest of Pakistan ready for the same?

Imran Khan referred to being in talks with some of the TTP groups, during an interview to the TRT World. Imran Khan, during the interview said: “Some of the Pakistani Taliban groups, actually want to talk to our government…for some peace and reconciliation. And we are in talks with some of the groups.”

There are different groups which form the TTP and some of them want to talk to our government for peace. So, we are in talks with them. It’s a reconciliation process.”

What did Imran Khan say about the talks with “some of” the TTP groups?
The interview was also published in a news report by Dawn on 1 October 2021. The following could be observed, as what Imran Khan mentioned during his interview.

First, the government is in talks with “some of” the TTP groups. According to Khan, there are “different groups which form the TTP.” And, the government is already in “talks” with some of the TTP groups. Second, “some of” these groups in the TTP want to talk to the PTI government. Question here would be, what do these groups that want to talk to the government discuss about? 

Third, Imran’s statement of an amnesty. According to the news report, Imran said, “Yes, we forgive them and they become normal citizens.” He also said: “I am anti-military solution, and as a politician, I believe political dialogue is the way ahead.” Fourth, is there a role being played by the Afghan Taliban? According to Imran Khan, “Since the talks were taking place in Afghanistan, so in that sense, yes.”

Imran’s TTP announcement: Five Questions
First, the lack of consensus. The opposition parties have been demanding a national debate in the Parliament, before any decision. The opposition parties – PML-N and the PPP were caught by surprise, with the statement. Even leaders within the PTI, or a part of the coalition were unaware of the process (of talks with the TTP by the government). Will Imran be able to take the process, without a national consensus, on what to discuss with the TTP?

Second, the question of talks and amnesty. Recent statements by the others from the government on the subject also referred to the above. In September 2021, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also made a similar statement on amnesty to the TTP. According to a Dawn report (16 September 2021), “if [the TTP] are willing to mend fences and not take the law into their hands and not get involved in terrorist activities and they submit and surrender to the writ of the government and the Constitution of Pakistan, we are even open to giving them a pardon, but as long as they do not come and start undertaking terrorist activities [in Pakistan]. That is our concern.” Earlier, in a TV interview, President Alvi made a similar statement. According to another Dawn report (11 September 2021), he said: “I am talking about the people who, before anything, have not remained involved in criminal activities. The government could consider making a declaration of amnesty [for the people] who forgo their TTP ideology and want to come with the intention of adhering to the Pakistani Constitution.”

Though there were statements about talking to the TTP and providing amnesty to them were discussed by other leaders, such as the above, Imran’s statement on the same has opened a debate. Perhaps, the big difference is who made the statement. Or, perhaps, the tone of the statement. While the others were talking about an idea of talking to the TTP, or giving them an amnesty, Imran’s statement refers to an ongoing process. His interview to the TV on the subject was: “…we are in talks with them. It’s a reconciliation process.”

Third, is the Establishment on board? This would be an important question. Though Imran Khan might have made the statement on 1 October; but the process of initiating the talks, and holding them, should have started earlier. If the talks are being held in Afghanistan, and if the Afghan Taliban is involved, it should have started earlier. If it is the case, then how to account the recent violence against the security forces in the tribal regions?

Fourth, is there a plan, or an endgame to what Imran has in mind? He gave a confusing answer: “We might not reach some sort of conclusion or settlement in the end but we are talking.” Imran Khan has always been in favour of a dialogue with the Taliban in Pakistan, even before becoming the Prime Minister. The question for him would be: dialogue with the TTP for what?

Fifth, what would the TTP want in return? Agreed, there are multiple groups under the TTP banner, fighting in different parts of the erstwhile FATA. The TTP is internally divided over tribal differences from Waziristan in the south to Swat in the north. What do these groups want?

Do factions of the TTP want to surrender, and lay down their arms to the government, or do they want to negotiate with the government? While the government may want the former, it is less likely to happen. Already there have been reports that some of the Taliban groups would want the de-merger of tribal areas, and the reduced footprint of the security forces in the tribal areas. Is the rest of Pakistan ready for the same?

*Note: The note was first published in http://www.pakistanreader.org/

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