Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a hard-line radical who also served on Pervez Musharraf’s cabinet, recently offered conditional amnesty to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). According to news reports of September 15, 2021, Qureshi said in an interview to The Independent that the government would be willing to give amnesty to members of the banned TTP if they pledge to not indulge in terrorist activities.
Qureshi said, “If those guys come and start creating problems for us over here, it will affect innocent lives and we don’t want that. If (the TTP) are willing to mend fences and not take the law into their hands and not get involved in terrorist activities and they submit and surrender to the writ of the government and the Constitution of Pakistan, we are even open to giving them a pardon.” Few days ago Pakistan’s President Arif Alvi had told Dawn that TTP members are not involves in “criminal activities” and could be forgiven.
Qureshi’s fresh amnesty offer evoked an editorial in the Dawn on September 17 which highlighted: TTP combines jihadi ideology with sectarian worldwide view and has slaughtered thousands of Pakistani civilians and security forces personnel; number of FC personnel were killed by TTP in Balochistan recently; there should be no amnesty for hardcore militants of the TTP who had planned and executed some of the worst acts of terrorism; if Pakistan fails in doing so, other extremists would be emboldened to follow suit; general amnesty is dangerous, and; low ranking ‘misguided’ cadres could be granted amnesty but will have to be de-radicalized and thereafter kept under surveillance.
The TTP rejected the conditional amnesty offered by Pakistan saying terrorism will continue until they managed to establish Shariah law in the country. The TTP further said that they cannot recognize an “anti-Islamic infidel democratic Constitution.” TTP also said it is Pakistani security forces that should ask for forgiveness. Interestingly the TTP response came on the same day as New Zealand abandoned their cricket series in Pakistan citing security concerns.
On September 2, 2021, the TTP published a report claiming responsibility for 32 attacks targeting Pakistani security assets in August. It also owned responsibility for over 20 attacks against Pakistani security forces personnel and assets in first half of September. It further stated that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jamaat ul-Ahrar (JuA), both al-Qaeda linked Ustad Aslam groups, had merged with the TTP in August 2020.
Another group of Hafiz Gul Bahadur has recently pledged allegiance to the TTP and its expected merger will make the TTP stronger. Based in north Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur was named TTPs ‘naib emir’ in December 2007 under Baitullah Mehsud but later distanced himself from the TTP due to rivalries and differences over TTP’s conduct.
When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it found about a division strength of Pakistani army including some 8,000 Taliban (5,000 were from Punjab Province) supporting Taliban inside Afghanistan. On Musharraf’s request, the US permitted them to be air evacuated back to Pakistan. The ISI also brought along hundreds of Afghans to be trained in Pakistan for future operations in Afghanistan – perhaps some in support of the US-NATO and some against?
In its so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) with Pakistan as its frontline partner, America undertook odd peripheral drone strikes inside Pakistan despite bulk of the terrorist training camps located on the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, leaving the balance counterterrorist operations to be undertaken by the Pakistani army. Pakistani army operations followed a set pattern as described by the local journalists; first advance information was passed on of impending attack to enable terrorist leaders to flee; troops then followed after air and artillery bombardment. Terrorist leaders relocated but thousands of civilians were killed in the bombings while millions were displaced.
On December 16, 2014, six gunmen attacked Army School, Peshawar killing 149 people including 132 schoolchildren, making it the world’s fourth deadliest school massacre. TTP claimed responsibility for the attack, describing it as revenge for Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistani military’s offensive in North Waziristan that started in summer of 2014. TTP spokesman Muhammad Omar Khorasani said, “We targeted the school because the Army targets our families. We want them to feel our pain.” Since its formal raising in December 2007, the TTP has been mainly located in eastern districts of Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
Qureshi’s or rather Pakistan’s fear must have surfaced after Taliban released TTP leaders and some 2,300 cadres from the Afghan prison in Kandahar while Kabul was in the process of being taken over. Pakistan wants the Afghan Taliban to use its influence to convince members of TTP to give up terrorist activities and submit to the Pakistani Constitution. So much is Pakistan’s desperation in claiming its ‘lien’ over Taliban that Pakistan’s interior minister Sheikh Rashid publicly admitted in a TV interview on September 2, 2021, “We are the custodians of Taliban’s leaders. We have taken care of them for a long time. They got shelter, education and a home in Pakistan. We have done everything for them.”
Qureshi’s outreach of amnesty to the TTP indicates that senility has eventually caught up with him and his coterie. By embracing hardcore Wahabi ideology decades back, thoroughly radicalizing the youth and population, and preaching that jihad is the responsibility of every Pakistani, not the military alone, how do they expect terrorist organizations to give up violence and terrorism? Taliban which Pakistan supported to the hilt does not believe in democracy and the Afghan Constitution and wants the rule of Sharia, so how is it expected to pressure TTP to do the opposite? Since long Pakistan reached the stage of radicalization where even Shias and Ahmadiyya Muslims are being killed, what to talk of minorities.
The Afghan Taliban is perhaps even worse. Recently, two Salafi clerics in Afghanistan were abducted and killed by the Taliban, prompting the Jamiat Ahle Hadith (Salafi religious organization in Pakistan) to condemn their deaths. Taliban killed the clerics because of ideological differences and as retribution against IS-K attacks as IS-K is perceived have offered platform to many Salafi jihadists after the 9/11 attacks.
Pakistan must reap what it sowed. Maulana Hamid ul Haq head of Darul Uloom Haqqania recently boasted, “We are no longer to be called the University of Jihad but the University of the Taliban Cabinet.” The school university located about 100 km from Afghanistan’s northwest border functions under tutelage of Pakistan’s government and has Mullah Omar, Jalaluddin Haqqani and Khalil Haqqani some of its notable terrorist illuminates.
In asking Taliban to rein in the TTP, Pakistan forgets the basic ideology of the Taliban which has not changed. Taliban will probably encourage TTP in its objectives as retribution to Pakistan for ignoring China’s genocide against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. The same reason is giving goose bumps to Beijing who wanted Taliban to act against the ETIM but all that Taliban has said it would not let Afghan territory be used for anti-China activities.
The above indicates that TTP will continue to get stronger in confronting Pakistan’s security establishment. Pakistan will have to keep combating them in addition to contending with independence movements in Balochistan, Sindh and the Pashtun areas astride the Durand Line. Pakistan appears destined to cook in its own stew which will boil over more in case more Chinese nationals are targeted in Pakistan. Little wonder Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are crying aloud for the world to recognize the Taliban government, which even Beijing has refrained from doing formally till now.