Home Editorial Editorial: Imran Khan and the TTP

Editorial: Imran Khan and the TTP

There is little chance of ‘peace’ with the militants so long as they refuse to adhere to Pakistan’s Constitution

by Editorial

File photo. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

In multiple statements and speeches, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has made it clear he does not agree with Islamabad’s Afghanistan policy, maintaining that any conflict with the Afghan Taliban would be fatal for Pakistan. “If we cannot continue good relations with Afghanistan, the new war on terror will become a curse for us,” he said during a seminar on terrorism organized by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government. “I said ‘absolutely not’ [to an alleged request for U.S. bases in Pakistan] because I wanted to save Pakistanis, as after drone attacks were allowed in retaliation, Pakistanis were killed,” he added, bolstering the anti-Americanism that has become a hallmark of his politics since his ouster as prime minister through a vote of no-confidence.

While the intensity of Khan’s anti-Americanism has soared in the past year, its origins lie in his criticism of Islamabad “joining” Washington in its war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, as well as its post-9/11 support for the war on terror. In this regard, he has appeared to favor the Taliban, claiming that the mujahideen had entered Pakistan after 9/11 and regarded Islamabad as a “collaborator” that had imposed war on them. This, naturally, raises questions about Khan’s views about the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), sheltering in Afghanistan and staging cross-border attacks in Pakistan.

In a televised address last month, Khan admitted that his government had wished to “resettle” in Pakistan around 5,000 TTP fighters and their families—totaling about 35,000 people—who had fled to Afghanistan. Claiming that the plan had failed because provincial governments had refused to fund the initiative, he maintained that spending money on the areas the TTP calls home would prove a path to peace. Unfortunately, his ideas find little support in reality, with critics noting that the banned group’s primary objection is to Pakistan’s Constitution—the very basis of all law in the country—and they view all overtures of peace as a chance to retrench, rather than retreat.

Another factor that makes “peace” with the TTP little more than a flight of fancy is the numerous factions that exist under its central umbrella. Even if one group is convinced to adhere to the Constitution, others would not. The infighting between rival groups, at its peak from 2014 to 2018, saw the militants lose some ground, but this was swiftly reversed after the Afghan Taliban returned to power in Kabul in 2021, with several splinter factions re-merging with the TTP and the banned group also formalizing a nexus with insurgents in Balochistan.

Unfortunately, Khan is committed to his utopian view of the TTP, reiterating his calls for resettlement even after a faction of the militants killed over 80 people, mostly policemen, in a suicide attack at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines last week. The TTP is aware of this “soft” corner; After Khan alleged that “people from South Waziristan” had been tasked with assassinating him, the group was quick to issue a rejoinder maintaining its war was against security forces and intelligence agencies and not political figures—even though just last month it had issued a naked threat to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, along with their respective political parties.

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