ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan government, with the help of Afghanistan's acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, has reached a tentative understanding with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terror group to seek a broader peace agreement and end nearly two decades of militancy in the country, according to a media report on Friday, November 5, 2021.
Haqqani is a specially designated global terrorist, who carries a reward of USD 10 million US bounty on his head.
The pro-Pakistan leader of the dreaded Haqqani Network is wanted by the FBI for questioning in several deadly attacks against US interests in Afghanistan.
The "direct, face-to-face" talks between the two sides being held in Afghanistan's south-western Khost province for nearly two weeks had resulted in a tentative understanding to declare a country-wide truce, conditional to the release of some TTP foot soldiers as part of confidence-building measures, The Dawn newspaper reported, quoting multiple sources.
It was not immediately clear how many militants would be released, but sources said the number was not more than two dozen.
"These are foot soldiers, not senior or mid-level commanders," sources said.
"We are testing the ground. We are cautious."
"The truce will come into effect once the prisoners are released," sources said on conditions of anonymity.
"The tentative month-long truce shall be extendable, depending on how these negotiations go forward," the report quoted a source as saying.
It is not clear who is negotiating with the TTP from the Pakistan side.
In an interview with a Turkish news channel last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan had acknowledged that his government was in talks with the TTP so that they may surrender arms and reconcile in return for amnesty "to be able to live like ordinary citizens."
The TTP had rejected Khan's amnesty offer, insisting their struggle was for the enforcement of Shariah in Pakistan.
The TTP has yet to confirm or deny the talks or the tentative understanding reached between the two sides.
The interior minister of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, Haqqani, has been the mediator between Pakistan and the TTP, bringing the two sides under one roof to engage in face-to-face talks, said another source.
"Talks are being held directly between senior officers and senior TTP leadership. The TTP includes all groups without exception," the source added.
"There are several proposals on the table and both sides are working to hammer out a workable solution. This source made it clear that no tribal intermediaries were being engaged in talks with the TTP leadership at the moment. They will be engaged at an appropriate time," the source explained.
Pakistani security officials have been pressing the Afghan Taliban to shut down TTP bases on their soil in line with their international commitments, citing an increase in the number of attacks, the report said.
Shortly before the Afghan Taliban takeover, the government had constituted a three-member high-powered commission to engage with the TTP in a bid to cease hostilities against Pakistan.
The Afghan Taliban leadership, knowledgeable sources had said at the time, was reluctant to use force, referring to tribal affinities and their joint fight and sacrifices against foreign occupation in Afghanistan.
Attention was then diverted towards those deemed amenable to negotiations, while the Afghan Taliban continued to work with a reluctant TTP leadership to engage with senior Pakistani intermediaries for direct, face-to-face talks, the report said.
Some government officials said that while many TTP foot soldiers and others were tired and weary of the fighting and living in exile and wanted to avail the amnesty offer, some militant leaders, including TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali and Jamaatul Ahrar leader Omar Khalid Khurasani, were proving to be "hard nuts" and resisting negotiations.
"Now, every one of them is on board," a source said.
The Pakistani military had launched a major operation against militants in North Waziristan, the last bastion of the TTP, forcing them to flee into Afghanistan.
But the militants using the sanctuary in the neighbouring country have been launching frequent cross-border attacks, assassinations, fire-raids and bombings in different parts of the country.
Such attacks have seen an uptick since the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August, the report added.