Time to Get Tough: Why Pakistan Needs a New Approach Towards TTP?

The chronicle of history provides a lesson fraught with danger. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s negotiation policy failed to prevent war even though the UK offered concessions to Germany. Pakistan’s policymakers face a similar dilemma with the Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Their approach, based on hope and assumptions, mirrors PM Chamberlain’s naïve trust in negotiations. Pakistan, with the new government at the centre faces a decisive moment against TTP. As the new government aspires to bring structural reforms to the economy and much-needed political stability, the increasing TTP attacks demand stringent and decisive action against any form of terrorism. Pakistan might end up fighting a bigger monster if it continues pursuing negotiations rather than taking a tougher approach towards TTP.

Afghan Taliban share cultural and ideological underpinnings with TTP. The noncommittal approach of eliminating TTP’s footprints from Afghan soil benefits the Afghan Taliban’s strategic calculus. Firstly, the breakaway with TTP would be perceived as a breakaway with their own identity. Secondly, the alignment with TTP serves the Afghan Taliban’s interest as it keeps the strategic balance largely in their favor to keep the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-K) in check. The 33rd report submitted to the United Nations Security Council Committee by ISIL and Al Qaida, Taliban Monitoring Team noted that TTP has been receiving ‘significant backing’ from the Afghan Taliban. Given the symbiotic relationship between the TTP and the Afghan Taliban, any agreement brokered by the latter might be an unlikely solution for peace because the TTP’s very existence hinges on violence and instability against the social fabric of Pakistan.

In the past, Pakistan’s transactional costs and trade-offs for peace with TTP turned out to be counterproductive, considering the short shelf life of the agreements. Asfandyar Mir – senior expert USIP noted that even short-term deals with TTP have backfired by strengthening them.  After the US withdrawal, Pakistan again engaged in a negotiation with TTP. This mirrored a pattern of at least five major peace agreements signed between 2007 and 2014, none of which lasted for more than a few months. However, the TTP used negotiations as a bargaining chip to extract concessions, primarily the release of captive terrorists, rather than engaging meaningfully for peace. These releases, secured through the TTP’s unfulfilled promises, created a vicious cycle for Pakistan, rendering negotiations a zero-sum game.

Furthermore, the decentralised nature of TTP and the number of factions with different trajectories makes the negotiation process complicated. The groups within TTP have different goals and they operate independently to a great degree thus making it difficult for Pakistan’s policymakers to manage the TTP threat via negotiations. The recent emergence of the enigmatic Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, (TJP) which is behind the recent seven major terrorist attacks in Pakistan, pronounces itself a single Islamic organisation. But the Pakistan agencies have attributed them to TTP with another name. Such complications generate another concerning aspect regarding TTP, as they create a dangerous discourse of good Taliban and bad Taliban, rather than treating them as rogue elements who use violence against noncombatant citizens to enhance their political objectives.

Some experts from Pakistan believe that dialogue is essential, and must continue. However, negotiations with TTP undermine the rule of law and will legitimise TTPs heinous crimes against the state. Pakistan needs a new approach to manage the TTP threat as Pakistan cannot leave its doors open for TTP to rush in. However, a pertinent question arises what options Pakistan does have to neutralise the TTP threat?

Firstly, Pakistan needs a clear strategy focused on bringing all rogue elements to justice who use violence to dismantle Pakistani society. Even if the cost is disengagement with Afghan Taliban, whose support for TTP is as clear as daylight. Secondly, to garner international support, Pakistan must engage the international community on an agenda that highlights the Afghan Taliban’s support for the TTP’s cross-border terrorism as a clear violation of the Doha Agreement. Thirdly, Pakistan can weaponise trade as a punitive measure to force Afghan Taliban to dismantle their support for the TTP networks. Fourthly, Pakistan must sharpen its counter-terrorism focus through intelligence-based operations in Pakistan. Lastly, Pakistan must enhance its border control measures and undertake targeted operations in Afghanistan to disrupt TTP operations and weaken its capabilities.

Curbing the menace of terrorism in Pakistan is long overdue, as it remains the prime reason behind the country’s current socio-economic struggles. For long-term corrective measures, Pakistan needs to undertake counter-extremism measures to eliminate the ideological magnetism of these organisations and smartly use all available kinetic and non-kinetic means to force TTP to surrender on the government’s terms and conditions.


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