Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
December 8, 2021
Pakistan has released 12 members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) from custody, a source told RFE/RL on December 8, amid ongoing negotiations to reach a peace deal with the Islamist group fighting a guerrilla war in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The government and the banned militant group, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, announced a monthlong cease-fire on November 8 as the two sides advanced talks for a possible agreement to end 14 years of conflict.
The release of 100 jailed TTP members was one of the group’s preconditions for reaching a permanent cease-fire agreement.
A source in Pakistan’s tribal region told RFE/RL that 12 inmates held in the Jandola area of South Waziristan had been transferred on December 7 to the neighboring Afghan province of Paktika, where they were handed over to the TTP.
The move came on the eve of the expected end of the monthlong truce.
Most of the freed militants were said to be from Pakistan’s Bajaur tribal district.
The group did not include prominent TTP members, the source told RFE/RL, adding that more prisoners are expected to be released in the next few days.
Over the past 15 years, Pakistan has signed three peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban, but none of them have lasted beyond a few months.
Pakistan conducted a massive military operation against the TTP across the northwestern regions in June 2014, forcing the group’s militants and leadership to take refuge across the border in Afghanistan.
However, the TTP has gradually staged a comeback in the mountainous, tribal regions since late 2019 and considerably increased the frequency of their attacks this year.
Sources told RFE/RL that the current talks were being held by senior Pakistani military officials and top TTP representatives, with the mediation of the Afghan Taliban.
The TTP is a separate militant group from the Afghan Taliban, which toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in mid-August. But Pakistan’s militant groups are often interlinked with those across the border in Afghanistan and the TTP follows the same hard-line Sunni Islam as its Afghan counterparts.
Leaders of Pakistani opposition parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League, have criticized the talks with the TTP, saying the government should not negotiate with killers of Pakistani civilians, soldiers, and politicians.
The families of the schoolchildren killed in a 2014 attack on a military-run school in the northwestern city of Peshawar have also raised objections to the negotiations. At least 150 people were killed in the assault claimed by the TTP, most of them children.