Pakistan: Islamabad is seeking for a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban to reduce instability risks
On 9 November, the Pakistani authorities and the Pakistani Taliban group – Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – agreed to a one-month ceasefire and talks aimed at finding a peace deal. The Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, are mediating the negotiations. The ceasefire will be prolonged, if agreed by both sides, to reach a lasting deal.
The latest initiative is cautiously encouraging, as well as controversial and challenging. This decision is a consequence of the Taliban’s return to power in neighbouring Afghanistan as it has raised terrorism risks in Pakistan. Although at first sight, Islamabad expressed satisfaction at the speedy US withdrawal in Afghanistan, it was also good news for the TTP. The TTP has been a long-lasting threat to Pakistan’s internal security and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US. Pakistan saw a surge in violence by the TTP since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, while terrorist attacks against Chinese individuals had already been rising since spring. Such attacks were partly motivated by the situation of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. As China is the country’s number one economic and financial partner, Islamabad is convinced of the need to reduce instability risks and contain the resurgence of the TTP threat. The latter was indeed a serious destabilising force in tribal areas, but also across the country’s largest cities several years ago. Therefore, any initiative to reach peace in Pakistan’s tribal areas is welcome. However, finding a lasting agreement will be tough, seeing that past negotiations failed.
On the Taliban side, there is almost nothing to lose, as they feel empowered by the Afghan Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Therefore, they will probably remain rigid in their demands, starting with the adoption of sharia law and the withdrawal of the army from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province's tribal areas. Prior to the ceasefire, they obtained the release of several TTP prisoners as a confidence-building measure.
Islamabad’s task is much trickier. First, to the government’s unease, the powerful army seems to be leading the talks, creating political tensions over the civilian government’s role. Negotiating with a perceived enemy of the state is politically risky and it is increasing criticisms of the opposition, which is calling for a parliamentary debate on the issue. However, that is unlikely given the opacity of talks and the army’s primary involvement in security issues, to the detriment of the civilian government. Second, any favourable outcome will be a tough task in the face of a probably uncompromising TTP, particularly as the government made it clear that any agreement has to comply with Pakistan’s Constitution. This means there is a high risk of seeing negotiations derail when touchy issues are addressed. In the difficult economic context, notably characterised by high inflation (at 9% in October), PM Khan nevertheless finds himself under pressure to find a peace deal and to improve his political standing while faced with a louder opposition. Hence, the implementation of sharia law in tribal areas appears to be the most likely acceptable compromise, if any. Yet, this would include the risk of boosting Islamist demands across the country for nationwide implementation. Those forecasts and arguments are based on stability in Afghanistan, which is far from certain. The Taliban’s position is indeed uncomfortable to say the least, between the economic collapse and the rising IS threat. This would definitely impact the peace talks and the potential deal. Meanwhile, Credendo’s political violence risk and MLT political risk ratings remain high, in category 6/7.
Analyst: Raphaël Cecchi – firstname.lastname@example.org