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Pakistan Hopes For 'Temporary Relief' As Senior General Leads Talks With Taliban

Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was formerly head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed was formerly head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.

A senior Pakistani Army general is overseeing negotiations between Islamabad and the banned hard-line Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an official who requested anonymity told RFE/RL.

The Pakistani official confirmed that Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, the officer in charge of all Pakistani troops in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is leading a Pakistani delegation in talks with the leaders of the TTP in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul.

The official added that the Afghan Taliban's interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and intelligence chief Abdul Haq Qasiq had been mediating the talks, which are part of Islamabad's ongoing efforts to stem rising violence from the outlawed fugitive group, whose attacks have killed dozens of Pakistani soldiers this year.

Hameed, a former head of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, has guided Islamabad's efforts to address the rising threat from the TTP through talks and military operations, including air strikes inside Afghanistan last month.

The official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that Islamabad had released more than 100 TTP prisoners including two prominent commanders.

"The releases are part of confidence-building and mark the start of formal negotiations," he told RFE/RL, which has seen a list containing the names of 30 prisoners who have been released.

RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reported last week that Islamabad had handed over two key convicted TTP commanders to the Afghan Taliban.

Muslim Khan and Mehmood Khan, both former TTP commanders from the alpine Swat Valley in northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are expected to be released once Islamabad concludes a formal agreement with the TTP.

However, Pakistani officials remain pessimistic about the TTP permanently giving up its violent campaign.

Attacks by the group and military operations in response have killed tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers since small Pakistani Taliban groups first emerged along Pakistan's western border with Afghanistan in 2003.

The Pakistani official said that Islamabad was hoping for "temporary relief" from the attacks as the talks with the TTP continue, though it remains to be seen if the jihadist group can be fully reconciled with the country's mainstream.

"There will, however, be cracks, which will substantially weaken the TTP," he said of the optimistic assessment within Islamabad of what the negotiations could eventually achieve.

Clouding the outlook is also Islamabad's checkered history of negations with the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistani officials concluded several agreements with the Taliban groups that formally united into the TTP in 2007. But none delivered peace, which eventually forced Islamabad to push the group into Afghanistan after a major military operation in 2014.

Building on its organizational and ideological links with the Afghan Taliban, the TTP eventually recovered and has reabsorbed some of its splinter factions over the past two years.

TTP attacks have spiked sharply since the Taliban seized Kabul in August 2021.

In a sign that an agreement with the TTP might not deliver the temporary respite Pakistani officials hope for, a suicide attack on a military vehicle killed six people in the restive North Waziristan district late on May 14.

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He also writes the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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