IPCS Discussion

Talks with the Taliban: Endgame for the Military, Political Parties and the TTP in Pakistan

11 Apr, 2014    ·   4384

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) organised a panel discussion on the talks between the government in Pakistan and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). 
The discussion took place at the IPCS Conference Room, with participation from representatives of the Indian ministries, young scholars, academia, and members of the strategic community. 
The dialogue was led by Ambassador TCA Rangachari, Rana Banerji, Sushant Sareen and D Suba Chandran.
Ambassador TCA Rangachari
Director, Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi

Till approximately three months ago, the common opinion was that talking to the TTP was pointless. Given that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was elected on a campaign platform that included a promise to initiate the dialogue with the TTP, the failing dialogue process was given another chance.
Should a state even be talking to a non-state actor? What does Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hope to achieve through this dialogue?

Rana Banerji
Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, and currently Distinguished Fellow, IPCS 

It has been ten years since the Pakistan army moved into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Ever since the army began to fight the Taliban, it has suffered large causalities, creating a peculiar security paradox which can be described as `falling between the two stools’- of FOIN ( Fomenting Insurgencies) and COIN ( Countering Insurgencies). There were several selective and short-lived peace accords between the army and various factions of the TTP. Initially, in 2003-2004, the Army suffered losses and the morale of the forces dipped to an all-time low. However, the 2009 military action in Swat exhibited implementation of a more classical military response. Larger formations deployed on the eastern border to face the Indian threat, at least two/three divisions, were brought in to bolster COIN capabilities in the FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through ‘Clear, Hold and Build’ operations. When the tribal militias were confronted by superior forces, they retreated to the hills or across the border, into Afghanistan.

On the one hand, the army is conscious of the need to maintain its image as `defender of Islam’. On the other, it has to enforce writ of State and sustain morale among its own troops.. There has been a shift or reorientation of approach in the Pakistani army after General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani retired; Under Raheel Sharif, the Army leadership has signalled they are prepared to cope militarily and hit back. There is better ISI intelligence sharing and ISI’s penetration in pockets of Taliban influence has improved. While at present, the army appears content to let the politicians handle the peace talks with the TTP, these are unlikely to achieve a satisfactory outcome. As and when they fail, the Army will take on the TTP militarily but only after this is endorsed by the civilian political leaders.
Sushant Sareen
Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation

On the political front in Pakistan, policies adopted by the State towards the Taliban meet with a ‘national schizophrenia’. There is a political constituency that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has to cater to. Political compulsions like balancing the right wing, political Islam, and the army and its involvement in the political management of the country, are likely to play important roles. Simultaneously, Nawaz Sharif has to be mindful of his and his family’s personal security.

Previous peace accords struck between the former government and insurgents have miserably failed in ushering peace. According to a potentially credible theory currently doing rounds, the Pakistani government is attempting to barter the western front of the country away to the Taliban in exchange of safeguarding the investment that flows into Punjab and Sindh.
Given the unavailability of options, the Pakistani government is attempting to temporarily settle with  any solution. Nawaz Sharif is willing to bargain, but there is no logical consistency in his stand. The entire approach towards the Taliban question is futile and un-planned.

Additionally, the stances of the other political parties in Pakistan vis-à-vis the talks also need highlighting. While right-wing parties such as the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) are hopeful for the success of the talks, religious parties such as the Sunni Jamaat-e-Islami and other Shia and Barelvi parties stand divided on ideological and sectarian lines, regarding ways to deal with the TTP.

D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

What does the TTP want vis-à-vis the state and the civil society? Today, the TTP, under Mullah Fazlullah is not the same as it was under the Mehsuds. With a change in the leadership, the endgame for the TTP has also changed. Until recently, the TTP only targeted the state, but now it has started taking over the society as well.

The TTP is not a monolithic organisation. It has evolved into multiple franchisees with multiple endgames. What does the withdrawal of the international forces from Afghanistan mean for the TTP? In terms of Afghanistan, the TTP is likely to look eastward and not westward of the Durand Line.

The TTP attacks on social institutions, women’s education, and tribal jirgas are moves targeted to undermine social emancipation in Pakistan. What will the implications of the return of the Punjabi Taliban to Punjab be? India is particularly concerned about this trend given how both Pakistan and India’s Punjab provinces share borders.

Politically, the TTP will pressurise both the military and the political parties to gain more legitimacy and put forth their demands. On the societal front, the TTP wants to undermine the role of political parties in the region to prevent them from openly dissenting against them.

The TTP views the peace talks as surrender talks. Until 2012, no one was ready to negotiate with the TTP, but today they are considered stake holders in the peace process.
Questions/ Inputs
• Is the TTP such a wandering aimless group that its functions keep changing, and agendas shifting, depending on the change in its leadership? How come there is no dissention among the members of the TTP? Why are they acting like mercenaries?

• Given the different factions of the TTP still carrying out attacks and the state unable to assert control, what are the chances of the talks being successful?

• How can the withdrawal of the international forces not have a significant impact on the TTP?

• One of the main issues the TTP is likely to raise is that of drone attacks. The TTP would want the drone attacks to stop. This demand is linked to the US-Pakistan relations and the crucial military and economic aid Pakistan receives from the US. In that context, how far is the State willing to go to meet the demands of the TTP?

• What was the primary objective for the creation of the TTP?

• If the TTP is split into various factions, what ties them together?

• Is the TTP trying to buy time by engaging the state in the dialogue process?

• Will the rising insurgency in Pakistan have a spillover effect on India? What would India’s response be? Is it in a position to defend itself?

• Does considering TTP as a stakeholder in peace mean that it has a support base in the FATA?


• The future of the TTP is not linked to the situation in Afghanistan. The Afghan Taliban would prefer to delink from the al-Qaeda and continue to attack the Pakistani establishment. The TTP and the Afghan Taliban might share similar ideologies but their agendas are not similar. There appears to be an evident divide between the two in terms of operational areas and targets.

• After General Kayani, the Pakistani army has been quick and firm in hitting back. This has been possible due to the reorientation in the army under General Raheel Sharif.

• The TTP is not a monolithic organization, but that does not mean it is divided. It has franchisees. This divide should not be exaggerated.

• The Pakistan Taliban was more a creation of the al-Qaeda than that of the Afghan Taliban under Mullah Omar. The TTP was founded to fight the Pakistani establishment. The primary target of the TTP remains Pakistan.

• Even if the military clears a particular area, the insurgents hit back swiftly. Swat was a great victory for the Pakistan military but only few such operations were actually successful.

• The TTP does not need a support base to rise. It uses violence. It is aware of the fact that the State is ready to listen to their demands. It does not need popular support to rise.

• The state will continue to denounce the drones in public and comply with the US backstage. The US will go for it and the army will enforce it. 

Rapporteured by Ayesha Khanyari, Research Assistant (IReS), IPCS