Afghan Taliban’s double game?

Pakistan has finally broken the silence on the ongoing talks with the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The government has welcomed the ceasefire while revealing that the Pakistani side, comprising officials both from the civil and military officials, is talking to the TTP. Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb has said the negotiating team has the mandate to discuss all issues and any decisions to be reached through talks will be approved by the government and the Parliament.

A series of meetings has taken place between the two sides in Afghanistan in recent weeks. The latest push for talks came from the Afghan Taliban who were under pressure from Pakistan to halt cross-border attacks by the TTP. The TTP first announced a ceasefire till May 30 which has now been extended by the militant outfit for an indefinite period at the request of the Afghan Taliban interim Prime Minister.

Last week a 57-member tribal jirga comprising tribal elders, politicians and others visited Kabul and held face to face talks with the TTP leadership. The jirga pressed the TTP to lay down arms and accept the Pakistani constitution. The sticking point, however, is the demand of TTP seeking the restoration of FATA’s old status. The Pakistani side told the TTP that the merger of FATA with K-P was a decision taken by the Pakistani parliament with consensus and on the demand of the tribal people to end the British era draconian rule in the tribal areas. For this purpose the jirga has sought at least three months to consult all the stakeholders within Pakistan. Meanwhile, the talks between the two sides would continue.

Other sticking points include the TTP’s demand to keep their arms even in case of a peace deal. They are also seeking the withdrawal of security forces from the erstwhile tribal areas.

According to sources, Pakistan was ideally seeking TTP’s complete elimination after the Afghan Taliban returned to power in August last year. But the Afghan Taliban, because of their close relationship with the TTP, have refused to take the TTP head-on. Instead they are pushing for a peace deal. If the deal is struck between Pakistan and the TTP, it would be a win-win situation for the Afghan Taliban. In that case, the Afghan Taliban would neither face pressure from Pakistan nor would there be fears of the TTP joining forces with Daesh, which is the sworn enemy of the Afghan Taliban.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, the interim Afghan interior minister and head of the Haqqani network, is playing a central role in brokering the deal. Haqqani told the jirga members and TTP representatives that the Afghan government wants both sides to reach some agreement as it does not want the TTP issue to spoil the relationship between the two countries.

It is believed that the TTP is under immense pressure from the Afghan Taliban to show some flexibility while at the same it is pushing Pakistan to sort out issues through political means instead of use of force. In other words, the Afghan Taliban have been employing the same strategy that Pakistan has adopted for over the years with Americans. The successive US administrations wanted Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban but Pakistan always responded to such demands with an argument that it would best use its good offices for a peace deal. The Americans often dubbed Pakistan’s approach as a ‘double game’. Publically Pakistan encouraged peace talks but was accused of providing support to the Afghan Taliban seeking their return to power. There were reports suggesting that the TTP enjoys support from the Afghan Taliban and is operating out of Afghanistan with impunity. That was the reason that despite progress in talks, there are concerns that prospects of a long-term peace deal are grim.

(Courtesy The Express Tribune)