Pakistan Reader# 248, 9 November 2021
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
On 7 November, the Ministry of Interior notified that the government has lifted the ban on the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) “in the larger national interest” and in line with the “secret agreement” it had signed with the group on 31 October. The notification read, “In exercise of the powers conferred under sub-section (I) of Section 11U of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (as amended), the federal government is pleased to remove the name of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan from the First Schedule of the said Act as proscribed organisation for the purpose of the said Act.” Further, the minister stated that the notification has been issued at the Punjab government’s request. This deal came following violent protests by the TLP who called for the release of its chief Saad Rizvi. Previously, on 3 November, the Punjab Cabinet Committee on Law and Order as a part of confidence-building measures after the federal government-TLP agreement deliberated on a plan to take the proscribed title of Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) off.
On 8 November, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that a complete ceasefire had been reached between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The minister stated that talks between the government and the TTP were underway, stating, “the state's sovereignty, national security, peace in relevant areas and social and economic stability will be considered during the talks.” Additionally, he added that the interim Afghan government had facilitated the negotiations. This announcement comes after Prime Minister Imran Khan had stated that the government was in talks with some TTP groups, seeking a reconciliation.
Two deals later: How did the PTI government negotiate?
In the recent past, the PTI government has faced a challenging time trying to address the issues concerning the TLP and TTP. With numerous rounds of ‘secret negotiations’ with both groups, the PTI government has reached the deals amid severe criticism and problematic agreements.
First, the PTI’s secret negotiations. The talks with both the TLP and TTT were held in private, with minimum deals about the agreements in public. With the TLP, the government refused to share the contents of the secret deal except for announcing that the group would be allowed to contest in the elections. Similar is the case with the TTP, where neither are the terms known nor is it clear who is leading from the government side.
Second, the PTI’s unilateral approach. Both agreements have been reached without any kind of parliamentary debate or involvement of the opposition. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari critical of the PTI government’s approach stated that the policies drafted without taking parliament into confidence lacked “legitimacy” arguing that the government could not take “unilateral decisions” when it comes to talks with the TTP and agreements made with the TLP.
Third, appeasing extremists. Although there is less information on the negotiations, the TLP and TTP seem to have the upper hand in the negotiations. The two groups have at multiple times managed to succeed in twisting the hands on the government to achieve their demands. It is this policy of appeasement that has hugely empowered such groups.
Two deals later: What is the cost that will be paid?
Although the PTI government has managed to calm the storms, this will likely be short-lived for three reasons.
First, backfire from the unilateral approach. Given that it is easier for a government to hold talks with extremist groups than the opposition parties, the lack of the same will only come back to haunt the PTI. It is crucial that the government take both its citizens as well as other political parties in the country into confidence so that consensus can be built on such issues.
Second, TLP and TTP are no longer buds that can be nipped. Both the groups have grown substantially over the recent past, thus the cost that will be paid will be larger if the matter is not dealt with wisely.
Third, the TLP-TTP nexus. Although the two groups are not entirely similar there seems to be a mutual understanding between the two. Previously, in April 2021, the TTP extended its support to the TLP’s countrywide protests, stating, “We stand by those who sacrificed their lives for the honour of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) in this hour of grief, and pay tribute to their honour and remind the military forces of their worth. We reassure them that we will take account of every drop of bloodshed of these martyrs.” This proximity should be concerning for the government.
“Talks With TTP,” The Nation, 7 November 2021
“Why the secrecy?,” Dawn, 2 November 2021
“TTP puts its weight behind TLP, calls for joint struggle against govt,” Pakistan Today, 14 April 2021
“A dangerous ‘truce’,” Dawn, 6 November 2021
Fahd Husain, “Talking to the TTP,” Dawn, 2 October 2021
Urooj Imran, “Truce with TTP — will it be different this time around?,” Dawn, 6 November 2021
“Complete ceasefire agreed between govt and TTP: Fawad Chaudhry,” Dawn, 8 November 2021
Ismail Khan, “Govt reaches understanding with TTP for temporary truce,” Dawn, 5 November 2021
Kashif Abbasi, “Ban on TLP revoked at Punjab government request,” Dawn, 8 November 2021
Mansoor Malik, “Punjab cabinet plans to remove TLP’s proscribed status,” Dawn, 4 November 2021
“TLP allowed to contest elections under deal,” Dawn, 3 November 2021
Syed Talha Shah, “TTP and TLP: different labels, similar ideology?” The Daily Times, 21 November 2018