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Govt-TTP talks

“Direct, face-to-face” talks between Pakistan and banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan being held in Afghanistan for nearly two weeks had resulted in a tentative understanding to declare a countrywide truce, conditional to the release of some TTP foot soldiers as part of confidence-building measures, multiple sources have said.

However, official confirmation is awaited. It was not immediately clear how many militants in Pakistan’s custody would be allowed to go free, but sources said the number was not more than two dozen “foot soldiers” that have killed tens of thousands of people in the country.

A little over a month ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosed on Turkish state TV that the militants were already in talks with the government underscoring the unilateral nature of the decision. “Some of the TTP groups”, he said, “wanted to talk to the government for peace and reconciliation. And we are in talks with some of the groups.”

It is not clear who from the Pakistan side is negotiating with the TTP. The interior minister of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, Sirajuddin Haqqani, has been playing a mediating role between Pakistan and the TTP.  The TTP’s atrocities cannot be overcome. Neither can the government afford to turn a blind eye to the group’s predilection for violating peace deals as the past has shown.

For years, the Pakistani Taliban attempted to stamp out the state’s writ, imposing their own brand of Sharia to quell dissenters and curb personal freedoms in the tribal areas and beyond. Thousands were killed and its targets included all — soldiers, tribal elders, politicians and ordinary people.

It took the massacre of 144 individuals, the majority of them schoolchildren, for the state to come to its senses in 2014 and introduce the consensus-based National Action Plan to defeat terrorism. The government cannot afford to go back to the days of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

It is true that dire economic circumstances at home and an unstable situation in Afghanistan have made Pakistani officials doubly anxious to resolve the TTP challenge. However, the government needs to let the people know the terms of the negotiations. The opposition parties are right in saying the government should have taken Parliament into confidence before holding talks with the TTP.

Any generally acceptable settlement has to have the support of public representatives. What the reconciliation and rehabilitation process is to entail, therefore, needs to be clearly stated.