By Sankar Ray
An unseemly haste in releasing over 100 Taliban prisoners by the federal government of Pakistan ostensibly as a “goodwill gesture” almost immediately after the ceasefire agreement between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government and the hitherto banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has irked the parents of children massacred by TTP terrorists at the Army Public School of Peshawar in December 2014. The bereaved parents angrily spoke out against any accord with the TTP condemning the act of wooing those who were the people responsible for the death of their innocent children. Parents of slain children staged a demonstration condemning the ceasefire deal.
Slamming the PT-I government, Pakistan People’s Party chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said “without the parliament’s approval, any agreement with the banned militant outfit will have no legitimacy.” Details and content of the truce are up the sleeves of powers-that-be in Islamabad but the TTP, sticking in its commitment to Sharia laws ever since it was born in 2007, will unmistakably push ahead in imposing Political Islam in tribal areas where it has influence. Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center, warned that in return of a ‘a sustaining truce, if not a permanent peace, it would need to get a lot back from the state”. The socio-religious tension which exists in provinces like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is feared to turn more intense.
Most of the freed Taliban prisoners were undergoing de-radicalisation and rehabilitation at the internment centres set up by the government according to informed sources. “Most of the released inmates have not completed a six-month mandatory de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programme. Others were ordinary foot soldiers”, disclosed an official of jail directorate.
The federal ministry of information and broadcasting informed that the interim Afghan government-backed talks between PT-I government and TLP started formal negotiations and agreed to a complete ceasefire which ‘will run for one month, with an option to extend if both sides agree. The I and B minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain claimed that the talks were held as per the Constitution and law of the land, confirming that the process was facilitated by the Taliban 2.0 government. He argued that it should be treated as a matter related to national security, peace in relevant areas and socio-economic stability while assuring that persons affected due to the TTP’s presence in different areas would not be ignored during the talks also
Prime Minister Imran Khan made it known on 1 October in an interview to TRT network that Pakistan was in talks with some factions of the TTP to persuade them to lay down their weapons. “I think some of the Pakistani Taliban groups actually want to talk to our government … for some peace, for some reconciliation,” – an indication that Islamabad was making up for extending olive branch to the Pakistani Taliban in order to please the top brass of the new emirate in Kabul.
In a letter signed and addressed to all concerned, especially commanders and fighters, the TTP chief, Noor Wali Mehsud a k a Mufti Abu Mansoor Asim, instructed that a one-month ceasefire be observed, effective from 9 November to 9 December 2021. “It is to inform all the responsible that the process of talks has been started with the government of Pakistan and to extend the process further, the parties have agreed on a one-month ceasefire…therefore, all the fighters associated with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to refrain from any action during the said period,” he wrote. It was issued the day after Fawad Chaudhry’s video statement confirming the bilateral dialogue and inking of a complete ceasefire thereon.
Nonetheless, resentment is brewing among the intelligentsia, specially the academia. Abdul Basit Khan, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore, in an opinion piece in the Arab News has pointed out the long-term price the state is paying for its short-term myopic policies, when Islamabad is not unaware of the TTP’s long marches and style of politics. Each year, TTP ‘besieges Islamabad and returns after securing concessions from the government of the day by holding a gun to its head. In doing so, it gains more strength, political space and ideological prowess’, he stated.
There is no doubt that the PT-I government has gotten itself into a great risk for many reasons. First, the bilateral standoff remains partially resolved since the TTP is staying put in Wazirabad until the release of its chief Saad Hussain Rizvi. Second, the ruling federal government’s capitulation to Pakistani Taliban outfit’s demands ‘captures the pitfalls of using radical-religious groups for short-term political gains which incur long-term catastrophic consequences.
Pakistanis across western countries are resentful towards the PT-I leaders. They want Imran Khan to firmly deal with such terrorists that are ‘the merciless cowards’ who travelled beyond all boundaries of humanity. ‘The Quran does not prescribe capital punishment except for murder or fisad fil ard (anarchy). Based on this Islamic ethos, the TTP members have forfeited their right to live’, an opinion-writer stated in The Friday Times.
The ceasefire deal took place in contrast to the growing optimism on ending the Islam phobic intolerance towards other Islamic sects like the Sufis and Ahmadiyas. Just for having belonged to the intensely philanthropic Ahmadiya sect of Islam, the renowned Pakistani theoretical physicist Abdus Salam, who cracked Nobel Prize in 1979, was humiliated and ostracised in his country. But Professor Salam loved Pakistan passionately and unconditionally. ‘Pakistan can keep doing whatever it wants, it is after all, our country,’ he famously said.
The PM is accused of accommodating the reactionary version of Islam – a narrow and self-serving one compared to the Islam of Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, who clearly expressed on taking his oath that, “if I don’t do what is right then correct me.” (IPA Service)