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EDITORIAL: The Afghan Taliban have pledged to the international community not to allow violent extremists to use their soil for attacks on other countries. Yet in the case of the so-called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists targeting Pakistan they are unwilling to deliver on their promise. Instead of punishing the terrorists who have killed more than 80,000 civilians and soldiers alike, and earned Pakistan the unsavoury reputation of being a terrorist hub, they have told the government to negotiate with them. That there existed a nexus between the Afghan Taliban and TTP has never been in doubt. In fact, at a briefing for parliamentarians, security officials had termed them two sides of the same coin. The government now finds itself in a catch-22 situation. Hence, last month President Arif Alvi, followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, announced that the government was open to giving amnesty to members of the TTP not involved in terrorism, were willing to lay down their arms, and abide by the Constitution. In a recent interview with a Turkish television, TRT World, Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosed that process is already under way. "Some of the TTP groups", he said, "wanted to talk to the government for peace and reconciliation. And we are in talks with some of the groups."

In the meanwhile, the TTP has shown no sign of relenting. Contrarily, they have escalated attacks in the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in different areas of Balochistan. Reports also suggest logistical coordination between TTP and Baloch insurgents with the result that there has been an upsurge of violence in that province as well. These people have also been attacking Chinese nationals working on various development projects. If the talks can help there is no harm in taking that course. Considering that the TTP is an umbrella organisation for various groups, those among them who served as foot soldiers may be offered pardon, but there must not be any clemency for those responsible for plotting and planning the killing of thousands of innocent men, women and children. The least the Afghan Taliban can and must do is hand them over to Pakistan so they can be held to account for their heinous crimes. Presumably, that is one of the conditions set by Pakistan for reconciliation, since the Prime Minister said "there might not be any settlement, but we are talking." He, of course, is not expected to ignore the sentiments of the families who have lost their loved ones, and also the general public.

The government needs to let the people know the terms of the negotiations. The opposition parties are right in saying the government should have taken Parliament into confidence before holding talks with the TTP. It is still not too late to do that. Any generally acceptable settlement has to have the support of public representatives. What the reconciliation and rehabilitation process is to entail, therefore, needs to be clearly stated. This is all the more important in view of the fact that in the past the powers that be adopted a soft approach towards extremist groups with disastrous consequence for the state and society.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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