KARACHI: In a major breakthrough, the Afghan Taliban on Saturday confirmed that the Pakistani government and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have reached an agreement on an “indefinite” ceasefire during ongoing peace talks in Kabul.
In an email response to questions from a group of Pakistani journalists, Afghanistan’s interim Deputy Information Minister Zabihullah Mujahid expects “bright chances” for the fragile talks to succeed.
“The Islamic Emirates is playing a mediatory role in the ongoing talks between the two sides. Our greatest desire and effort is to bring about long-term peace and reconciliation between the two sides,” Mujahid, who also serves as the interim Taliban administration’s spokesman, stated.
Wars and violence, he said, not only bring human, social, and economic losses but also invite “foreign intervention.”
“I believe the two sides have noticed it,” adding: “It is in the “best interest of both sides to move forward sincerely to achieve the peace goal.”
Replying to a question about the conditions the two sides have set for permanent peace, Mujahid said: “We have got nothing to do with it. This is an issue between the two sides. We don’t want to get involved.”
“Our only desire is that both sides show flexibility and move forward with sincerity in order to extend the ongoing ceasefire and continue to cease attacks,” he added.
In response to another question on what would happen if talks fail this time as well, Mujahid reassured that the Taliban will not allow “anyone” to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan.
The Taliban have reiterated similar assures since taking over Kabul in August last year, however, Pakistan has seen a surge in the militant attacks, mainly in bordering areas, since then.
The Taliban spokesman also confirmed that a delegation of Pakistani tribal leaders recently visited Kabul in connection with the ongoing peace talks.
The visit, he added, helped in extending the ceasefire.
Maulavi Naik Muhammad of North Waziristan was the first to form a militant group in 2004, while the TTP was formally established in June 2007, with Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan as its leader. The group has been involved in numerous attacks, including suicide bombings inside Pakistan.
The network later increased subversive activities in North Waziristan — once dubbed the heartland of militancy — following an army onslaught on South Waziristan in 2010.
Another large-scale army operation in 2014 pushed the TTP to neighboring Afghanistan and Islamabad says the terrorist network has now set up bases across the border to attack Pakistani security forces.
A recent report — titled Pakistan, the TTP, and the Impetus for Internal and External Peace — urged Islamabad to approach all negotiations with the TTP from a “position of strength,” and ensure that all agreements are in accordance with the country’s constitution.
According to the report by Islamabad-based think tank Tabadlab Centre for Regional and Global Connectivity, the TTP’s demands include reversing the merger of semi-autonomous tribal areas into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) province, withdrawing all military presence from the tribal region, enforcing Shariah Law in the Malakand region of K-P, releasing over 100 commanders and fighters, and presidential pardoning for two key militant commanders, and complete freedom of movement for the TTP members in the Malakand region.
The report deemed the TTP demands unviable since they would amount to ceding constitutional sovereignty in these regions to the militant network.
The Pakistani government’s demands include the complete dissolution of the TTP, disengagement from other militant groups, a renunciation of violent activity, and re-emergence as a legitimate political entity within the constitutional norms of the country, the report noted.
Any agreement that does not result in the disbandment and demilitarisation of the TTP cannot be considered a success, it added.
The report also suggested that Pakistan “capitalise on internal pressures” within the TTP to repatriate their families who are currently displaced in Afghanistan.
Islamabad should offer these families peaceful and assisted repatriation in exchange for the TTP’s immediate disbandment and liquidation, it added.
Pakistan’s key negotiation strength, it said, is its “strong relationship” with the Afghan Taliban.
The focus of peace negotiations must remain on extending careful and deliberate dialogue that builds momentum for peace while not alienating the interim Taliban regime or the Afghan people, the report added.
Recognition of Taliban government
Mujahid accused the US of being the “biggest” impediment to the Taliban regime’s recognition and accused Washington of “pressuring” other countries to follow suit.
“It’s better for the US and all other countries to realise that a political give-and-take with us is in everyone’s interest,” he said, dismissing a widespread perception that the Taliban’s conservative policies, particularly regarding women’s rights and education, are the main reasons for the delay in their recognition.
He said now that the “war weather” has passed, the Taliban want “friendly” relations with the US.
In reference to the 2020 Doha agreement, which resulted in the US withdrawal from the war-torn country after nearly a 20-year conflict, Mujahid said the Taliban are committed to not allowing any group or individual to use Afghan soil against Washington.
“We are committed to abiding by the Doha agreement. However, there is a need for further concrete measures to strengthen political relations and foster mutual trust,” he observed.