Little is known about the ongoing talks between Islamabad and the militant group, which is behind some of the deadliest attacks in the country's history.

The Pakistan government’s decision to hold talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has raised concerns that Islamabad might end up ceding too much ground to a violent group behind some of the deadliest attacks in the past decade. 

Islamabad and the TTP announced a month-long ceasefire on Tuesday as the two sides agreed to hold talks to reach a lasting settlement. 

Not much is known about the sort of concessions Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government is offering to the TTP, which has ramped up its assaults on military targets this year. 

“In order to ensure that TTP is willing to agree to a sustaining truce, if not a permanent peace, it would need to get a lot back from the state,” says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Wilson Center. 

“So far all we have heard is that Pakistan would release some TTP fighters from jail. But I think it would have to make many more concessions than that,” he tells TRT World

Around two dozen TTP fighters are in Pakistan’s custody. 

Kugelman says TTP aims to impose Sharia law and might press Islamabad to allow the group some sort of say in governance in the tribal regions where it holds sway. 

Bajaur, Mohmand and South Waziristan are among the seven tribal districts, which border Afghanistan, where the TTP remains active. 

In an interview with TRT World in October, Khan disclosed that his government was in talks with TTP leaders. He also said that negotiations were taking place in neighbouring Afghanistan where the Afghan Taliban were helping with the process. 

Pakistan army had conducted sweeping operations in the past to flush out TTP from the tribal regions.
Pakistan army had conducted sweeping operations in the past to flush out TTP from the tribal regions. (AP)

Not forgotten 

TTP was formed in 2007 with the aim to enforce its own strict interpretation of religious laws. While ideologically close to the Afghan Taliban, the group has largely focused militant activity targeting the Pakistani state. 

The group was behind the 2014 ambush on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar where more than 150 people were killed, most of them children.

That incident mobilised public opinion against the extremist group and TTP fighters were driven out of the tribal regions in a sweeping military operation known as Zarb-e-Azab (named after the Prophet Muhammad’s sword). 

Holding talks with a violent group that’s behind such atrocious attacks will be a hard sell for the Pakistani government. 

“We condemn this peace deal in the strongest terms,” says Ajoon Khan, whose son Asfand, a tenth grade student, was killed in the APS attack. “We will challenge this in court. It’s not your prerogative to negotiate with the killers. We are the ones who lost our loved ones,” he tells TRT World.

Ajoon is among dozens of parents of murdered school children who have approached the Supreme Court, asking it to hold government and military officials responsible for the security lapse, which resulted in the APS school attack.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Khan had to appear before the Supreme Court judges himself to present the government's point of view. 

The government says it has executed five militants who were involved in the attacks while another is on death row. 

More than 140 children were killed when TTP militants attacked an army-run school in 2014.
More than 140 children were killed when TTP militants attacked an army-run school in 2014. (AP)

But Khan also faces criticism from opposition parties, which say they weren’t taken into confidence before the ceasefire was agreed with the TTP. 

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party and son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed by the TTP, says the decision to hold talks must be discussed in parliament.

To his credit, Prime Minister Khan has always maintained that he believes in a negotiated settlement to the conflict and has never been in favour of a military solution. 

His insistence on holding talks with the TTP had earned him the derogatory nickname “Taliban Khan”. 

Not the first time

Over the years, the Pakistan government has reached out to the TTP on several occasions to find a peaceful solution but the talks have gone nowhere. 

The situation may be different this time as the Afghan Taliban are in full control of Afghanistan. Pakistan maintains close ties with Afghan Taliban leaders, some of whom had spent years in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar. 

Islamabad has been pressing the Afghan Taliban to stop the TTP from using sanctuaries in Afghanistan. 

Kugelman says Sirajuddin Haqqani, Afghanistan’s interior minister in the Taliban government, might have played a role in bringing TTP to the negotiating table. 

Sirajuddin is the leader of the so-called Haqqani Network, a group which is part of the Afghan Taliban and enjoys influence over the TTP.  Haqqani fighters also have a base in Pakistan’s tribal region of North Waziristan. 

Another factor that paved the way for the ceasefire is the relative weakness of TTP compared to its capacity to carry out relentless attacks a few years back, says Kugelman. 

“During its heyday, the Pakistani Taliban was probably the most bloodthirsty and dangerous group, not just in South Asia, but in the world.”

“It happily killed children and targeted random civilians in parks, schools and on volleyball pitches.” 

With such a violent past, Kugelman remains sceptical about the long-term viability of any peace deal. 

“I find it hard to believe that this truce will last beyond a month.” 

Source: TRT World