Second Opinion: Negotiating with the TTP
- Date: March 21, 2014
Public debate continues to revolve around talks with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP); with the “month-long” ceasefire coming to a close by the end of March, it remains to be seen whether the negotiating committees made headway on either end. Even as the ceasefire held, splinter militant groups mounted multiple attacks across Pakistan, and Parliament took up the government’s National Internal Security Policy (NISP) document for debate. There appear to be clear rifts in public opinion vis-à-vis the government’s approach on militancy and terrorism, with certain groups agitating against the resumption of talks.
Jinnah Institute asked policy experts for their appraisal of Islamabad’s security strategy and the likely impression on public narratives about terrorism.
Dr. Khalida Ghaus, Professor and Managing Director of the Social Policy & Development Centre, maintained that the effort to establish peace had thus far been surrounded by controversy, confusion and complications. The public narrative on the issue of terrorism was greatly influenced by All Party Conferences convened to build political consensus among the political parties on the issue. Dr. Ghaus stated that on-going negotiations continued to be viewed with apprehension and skepticism by the public, which had come to doubt the capacity and the intention of the government. “This multi-faceted conflict is increasingly protracted. A quick, viable solution appears to be impossible,” she noted, adding that references to terrorism and the TTP were often used interchangeably, and that the role of other terrorist organizations was often overlooked at the societal level. For many bystanders, terrorism was a politico-religious ideological conflict that harboured the potential to threaten societal security. “The TTP clearly has a social agenda, and [has] demonstrated its capacity to dent the social fabric of Pakistan. Tackling it will therefore require an incremental and a well coordinated approach.” On the subject of the new national security policy, Dr. Ghaus emphasized the need to act on the principle of inclusiveness and establish dialogue with all stakeholders. In her view, the two committees constituted by the government were not representative of a large segment of civil society that had been sidelined. “Unable to contribute in building a national narrative, the disconnect between the government and the civil society is obvious,” she concluded.
Moeed Yusuf, South Asia Advisor at USIP, held the view that states regularly speak to insurgents and therefore talks with the TTP ought not to be viewed as anathema. The real question in such situations was how far the state was willing to go in accommodating the insurgents: “Here is where it gets tricky – for a state could conceivably go so far that it ends up legitimizing the insurgent and conveys to the public that it has all but capitulated in the face of the non-state actor’s onslaught,” he said. Moreover, he felt that the Pakistani state was perilously close to this tipping point, given its confused, conflicted, and unclear strategy: “It keeps shying away from standing up to the TTP as they cross one red line after another in terms of continuing their violent campaign. The justification is that we don’t have a political and popular consensus for the operation.”
Mr. Yusuf explained that it was naive to think that a consensus would come about organically if talks collapsed. He described Pakistan’s polity as confused, with further confusion being sown by ill-informed debates in the media. As a result, the natural outcome of talks would be a split view on the Taliban. Consensus would ultimately have to be created instrumentally; one way to galvanize the nation could be by bringing the TTP’s videos of floggings and killing of Pakistani personnel to the public’s attention. Ultimately, it was not so much about consensus as it was about politics, fear, procrastination, and a civil-military disconnect on the subject. Mr. Yusuf felt it was foolish to hope that the TTP would agree to surrender.
Huma Yusuf, a columnist for DAWN, argued that the biggest setback of the negotiations process until now had been the amount of media airtime given to TTP representatives, allowing them to enjoy an unprecedented platform for their obscurantist views. Other processes, such as the TTP’s decision to use members of Pakistan’s religious political elite on their negotiating committee, calls for a TTP office, and discussion of a ‘free zone’ for militants engaged in talks to move freely, had all helped set up the TTP as a legitimate political actor (rather than a terrorist organization). This had led to a dangerous blurring of lines that was already enabling the TTP to carve out more political space for itself going forward. She felt that the government’s decision to take at face value the TTP’s comments about ongoing violence during the ceasefire – the group’s denunciations and finger-pointing at splinter groups – was likely to lead to further confusion about the source of militancy in Pakistan. As the TTP distanced itself from violent acts committed by its factions, the public was more likely to buy into conspiracy narratives about external actors seeking to destabilize Pakistan.
Ms. Yusuf observed that while an initial agreement with the TTP was likely to be reached in the next 9 to 18 months, it was also likely to be breached within a year. As the security landscape in Afghanistan adjusted to international troop withdrawal, the TTP would consolidate its hold over FATA and provide unfettered access to the area to other militant groups for training, recruitment, jihadi networking, etc. “Given this scenario, the government has set itself up for a race against time which it is likely to lose: the breakdown of any peace deal with the TTP would occur far sooner than the government’s attempts to change the narrative on terrorism, regularize madrassahs, develop and implement deradicalization programs,” she stated. Moreover, a successful peace negotiation or ceasefire agreement with the TTP would also reduce the political will to push through reforms required to better coordinate intelligence and law-enforcing agencies and establish rapid response and counterterrorism teams. Ms. Yusuf saw that the country would still be ill-prepared if the specter of terrorism underwent a resurgence in future.
(The views in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Jinnah Institute, its Board of Directors, Board of Advisors or management. Unless noted otherwise, all material is property of the Institute. Copyright © Jinnah Institute 2014)