On Saturday, the Pakistani Taliban also known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) announced a one-month ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani government. The TTP is a loose network of Sunni extremist and jihadist groups that operates primarily in the north west part of Pakistan and does not have much power in the rest of the country. Both sides heralded the agreement as a breakthrough and hoped it would pave the way for more comprehensive peace talks.
In early February, both sides met to negotiate a settlement in their first formal meeting. Talks broke down a few weeks later when a militant group linked to the TTP claimed responsibility for killing 23 Pakistani soldiers who had been held hostage since 2010. In response, the government commenced airstrikes, which continued until the Taliban asked for the ceasefire.
Supporters of Pakistan’s religious political party Sunni Tehreek shout slogans as they demand military operation against Taliban, in Pakistan’s northwest, during a protest rally in Lahore. (Photo: Reuters)
According to Pakistani analysts, the Taliban is returning to the table because it has been severely weakened by the government’s military offensive. Through airstrikes into northwest Pakistan, specifically in the North Waziristan and the Khyber tribal regions, the government has brought the Taliban to its knees. TTP leaders also appeared intent on avoiding the full scale ground offensive that the government had announced. The offensive was planned with U.S. assistance and the U.S. has been pushing for such a maneuver for several years. Despite the fact that militant attacks against Pakistani soldiers and civilians are continuing and opposition leaders oppose talking to the Taliban, Pakistani Prime minister Nawaz Sharif put the military offensive on hold in order to pursue a negotiated solution to the conflict.
Skeptics of the ceasefire agreement worry that it is merely a tool to let the Taliban regain military strength and believe it may actually accelerate militant attacks in the long run. Central leadership attempts to exert influence over many different militant organizations have met with varying degrees of success, but not all militants fall under the Taliban umbrella. A ceasefire does not preclude the use of force on these other groups, as the recent government strike on a militant leader who attacked a convoy carrying polio vaccine demonstrates.