Truce negotiated through secret talks, with the help of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan
The Pakistan government has reportedly reached a deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militant group that would see Islamabad release detained extremists in exchange for a ceasefire.
Local media, citing sources with knowledge of the talks, said Islamabad had agreed to free “several prisoners,” adding that this was the first phase of “confidence building measures” to encourage the Pakistani Taliban to declare a ceasefire nationwide.
Earlier, sources involved with the negotiations had claimed that the freed prisoners would be from the TTP’s rank-and-file and would not include any senior commanders. However, daily The News has reported that some of the prisoners being freed include top Taliban leaders in Swat, who have already been shifted to Afghanistan.
Neither the Pakistan government, nor TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani have confirmed the agreement. The report, however, claims that several prisoners have been allowed to phone their family members and assure them that they are safe.
According to The News, the Pakistani Taliban had initially demanded the release of five senior militant leaders so they could be assured of the government’s seriousness in talks. “The Pakistani authorities themselves offered to release 102 prisoners, including the five important leaders, so that the peace process could yield results,” it quoted sources as informing it.
The prisoners had been detained in various prisons across Pakistan. The report claims that they have all been shifted to Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan, from which they would be taken to Afghanistan prior to their eventual release.
Summarizing the progress of the secret talks, the report said that the first meeting between representatives of the TTP and the Pakistani government had taken place in Afghanistan’s Khost province shortly after the Afghan Taliban’s takeover of Kabul. Citing a member of the government’s negotiating team, The News said the peace initiative had been launched from Bajaur in February when some local leaders had offered to help bridge the gap between the authorities and the extremists.
To support Pakistan’s efforts, the Afghan Taliban have appointed Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the Haqqani Network and defense minister of the Islamic Emirate, to play a role in the peace process. The negotiating team member claimed that the Afghan Taliban had agreed to become guarantors of the proposed deal.
Earlier, Radio Free Europe had reported that Pakistan was holding “secret” talks with the TTP to secure a ceasefire and bring a halt to the surge in militancy in the country following the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, on Oct. 1, had confirmed that his government was in talks with “some” factions of the TTP on a “reconciliation process.” In an interview with Turkish broadcaster TRT, he said the PTI-led government was willing to “forgive” TTP militants in exchange for a ceasefire. When asked if the Afghan Taliban was facilitating the process, Khan said “the talks are taking place in Afghanistan, so in that sense yes.”
However, the TTP had issued a statement rejecting Khan’s claims, and had urged its fighters to continue attacks on security forces.
This is not the first time Pakistan has signed a deal with the TTP. Since the group’s founding in 2007, various governments have sought peace, though none of the accords have lasted very long and have always resulted in a fresh surge in violence upon their collapse.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has long been a vocal proponent of peace with the Pakistani Taliban. In 2013, when he was in the opposition, he urged the government to allow the extremists to establish an office in Pakistan to negotiate peace with them. A year later, the TTP demanded that Khan be included in a government committee tasked with holding talks with it. Khan declined the offer.