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Pakistan Taliban stay firm on demand for separate tribal area at Kabul meeting held to broker peace

Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) fighters (Image: Twitter/@Gulheri6)

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) also known as the Pakistan Taliban has said in a statement that while it has extended the ceasefire indefinitely, it has not given up the demand for separating the tribal areas from Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

In fact the banned militant group has put forth a one-point agenda before a Pakistan backed so called Tribal Jirga  in Kabul to roll back the merger of erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for talks to continue.

According to sources, the Pakistani army’s handpicked 50-member delegation comprising tribal elders from 13 districts and some sitting and former parliamentarians from the merged tribal districts who are attending the meeting in Kabul, told the TTP leaders that they do not have a mandate for rolling back the reforms passed by Pakistan’s parliament.

But the militant group has stuck to their stand that FATA reforms were an extension of “the western democratic system and culture” aimed at ending  Islamic values based on Sharia from the tribal  districts. The TTP leaders claim they have fought alongside forces in Afghanistan to defeat three super powers –Britain, Soviet Union and United States of America in support of the Islamic cause.

While the talks between the Pakistani army’s Tribal Jirga and the TTP central committee are going on , one Jirga member said that the TTP had shown rigidity by issuing such a statement as the Pakistani side was ready to address their main demands. 

“If the Pakistan Taliban don’t show softness in their stance, the multiple rounds of talks would have zero result,” a member of the Tribal Jirga  told The Express Tribune on condition of anonymity.

The talks are being facilitated by the chief of the Haqqani Network Sirajuddin Haqqani who is the interim Interior Minister of the Taliban regime. 

According to Afghan sources, this round of talks which started on Thursday, is expected to conclude on Friday and the parties are likely to formulate proposals for their respective sides – the TTP to their central leadership and the tribal elders to the Pakistani army leadership.

The talks between the Tribal Jirga and  the TTP would be followed by direct talks later this month between the militant group and the senior leadership of the Pakistani security establishment including the ISI. 

“They (the TTP) want the release of all their 102 prisoners. They mentioned this at the beginning of the talks  with the Jirga members. They also called for dropping the cases that have been filed against them,” Tahir Khan, a Pakistani journalist, told TOLO news. 

The TTP is a home-grown militancy in Pakistan but shares roots with the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. Pakistan has asked the Afghan Taliban to disband the TTP and for the insurgents to accept Pakistan’s constitution and sever all their ties with the Daesh group, another militant group with a regional affiliate that is active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Pakistani army sent the Tribal Jirga to Kabul as intermediaries because under Pakistan’s constitution, the government cannot negotiate — at least not directly — with those waging an insurgency against it.

Meanwhile the Pashtun leaders are criticising the Pakistani army for ignoring the civilian elected Pakistani government while making a deal with the banned militant group who have killed more than 80,000 Pakistanis.

“Ex FATA is being handed over to the Taliban. Their fighters are regrouping, traders are being extorted and killings have increased. Their convicted commanders get Presidential pardons.

Jirgas are talking to TTP, even about undoing the FATA merger. Parliament bypassed completely,” Mohsin Dawar, a Pakistani parliamentarian wrote on Twitter. 

Many members of Pakistani civil society are criticising the “secret” deal with the militant group.