TTP seizure of Bannu counter-terrorism centre enters second day

— Officials indicate no breakthrough in night-long talks between army, militants

— KP spokesperson says army unwilling to concede to demand of safe passage to Afghanistan

— Former PM Imran says ‘imported’ government only interested in ‘NRO-2 preservation’

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Militants from Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group seized a counter-terrorism centre in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and took hostages who authorities were still battling to free a day later, officials said on Monday.

Security forces have surrounded the interrogation centre near the town of Bannu, where at least 20 fighters are holed up. However, the Associated Press put the number at 30, including from the military, reporting there could be as many as 10 hostages being held.

According to a spokesman for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the militants were demanding safe passage to Afghanistan. “We are in negotiations with the central leaders of the group in Afghanistan,” Mohammad Ali Saif told Reuters.

However, in a statement, Mohammad Khurasani, a spokesperson for the group, said its members had, in an earlier video statement, demanded safe passage but “mistakenly mentioned Afghanistan”.

Khurasani said the group had now spoken to government and demanded to “shift the prisoners” to either South or North Waziristan, but said they had not received a positive response so far. Those areas were a Taliban stronghold until a wave of Pakistan Army offensives over the past years declared the region cleared of insurgents.

Saif said the relatives of the militants had also been involved in initiating talks with the militants inside the facility.

At least one counter-terrorism official was killed by the militants, who according to authorities had snatched weapons off their guards while under interrogation. Several significant TTP members were present at the centre, Saif said.

Separately, an unconfirmed video shared on social media by the TTP showed armed militants surrounding an injured person, believed to be a security guard.

A spokesperson for Bannu police said: “It’s not clear if the terrorists attacked from outside, or if they snatched the ammunition from staff inside” while being interrogated following their arrest.

Muhammad Naseeb said the highly secure detention centre — which authorities say is for individuals involved in terrorism-related offences — had been surrounded by security forces.

UNSUCCESSFUL TALKS

Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also confirmed the militants were looking to negotiate for safe passage to neighbouring Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, which has become a safe haven for TTP fighters.

In a morning conversation, Saif told Independent Urdu that the security situation in the military-administered neighbourhood was far from being resolved.

He said he was involved in night-long negotiations between the militants and law enforcement “but no progress has been made so far”.

“I could not sleep all night. One side [militants] wants safe passage, [but] the other is not ready to offer [them] that,” the report quoted the minister as saying. “The military authorities in Bannu cantonment are looking at the situation,” but a final decision will be taken by the top brass, he added.

Saif also confirmed direct negotiations between the militants and the army representatives, which he said began last night, were ongoing.

Citing local journalists, the report said strict security measures have been taken and the neighbourhood has been put on high alert. It further said the neighbourhood has been “completely sealed off for any entry”.

His Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, which rules the province, did not directly address the matter, but, in a series of tweets, its chairman Imran Khan lambasted the central government over its “failure” to deal with the resurging threat of terrorism.

“Apart from running our economy to the ground, this imported government [sic] has failed to deal with the 50 percent increase in terrorism in Pakistan with incidents from Chaman to Swat to Lakki Marwat to Bannu,” he said.

“They have also failed to deal with attacks from the international […] border by security forces of a ‘friendly’ [sic] government. While our soldiers, police and local people are giving daily sacrifices with their lives, the worst part is that this increasing terrorist threat and attacks from across our Western border are finding no space in the discourse of this government of a cabal of crooks.”

The former prime minister suggested the government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was only interested in “their NRO-2 and its preservation”.

“Therefore, despite the economy tanking they are petrified of holding elections, which is the only way to stabilise the economy through political stabilisation.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister, who last night congratulated Argentina on winning the “nail-biting” World Cup final, is yet to address the situation.

Pakistan has been fighting an insurgency by the group. The TTP associates itself with Afghanistan’s Taliban, which had been trying to broker talks between Islamabad and the fighters.

The United States and the United Nations have declared the TTP a global terrorist organisation. Leaders of the group and commanders have long taken refuge in the neighbouring country and direct cross-border terrorist attacks from bases there.

— With input from Associated Press

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