Terrorism

Victims' relatives, activists oppose Pakistani government's TTP amnesty plans

By Zarak Khan

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Relatives of victims who died in the TTP massacre at the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December 2014 hold a protest on October 14 outside the Islamabad Press Club against a proposed general amnesty to the terror group. [Zarak Khan]

ISLAMABAD -- Victims of terrorism and civil society activists are opposing a recent government offer of amnesty to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The TTP has carried out hundreds of attacks on both Pakistani security forces and civilians, including an assault on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar in December 2014 that killed more than 145 people, mostly children.

Pakistan, the United States and the United Nations have designated the TTP a terrorist organisation.

Relatives of the victims of the APS massacre on October 14 protested outside the Islamabad Press Club after Prime Minister Imran Khan floated the idea of a general amnesty for the TTP.

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Pakistani children and teachers, clad in white burial shrouds, demonstrate in Lahore on December 19, 2014, against an attack by Taliban militants on the Army Public School in Peshawar, which killed more than 145 people. [Arif Ali/AFP]

Khan in an interview with a Turkish TV on October 1 said that his government was in talks with some TTP factions as part of an effort to persuade them to lay down arms and become normal citizens of the country.

Betraying terrorism victims

"Talking to TTP terrorists is tantamount to betraying the thousands of innocent people killed by terrorism," said Faisal Ali, a relative of a 12-year-old student who was killed at the APS.

By offering the TTP a pardon, the government has emboldened the militants, who are still carrying out terrorist acts, Ali said.

Fateh Joseph, a Christian civil society activist who lost two relatives in a suicide bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar in September 2013, said that members of his community are still grieving the loss of their loved ones.

The TTP claimed responsibility for the bombing, which killed 104 people and wounded another 142.

"The government's plans to pardon the killers of thousands of innocent people will enrage the families [of victims]," Joseph said.

Following crackdowns on the TTP's various factions across Pakistan in 2014–2015, the group shifted its hideouts to neighbouring provinces of Afghanistan.

There, they masterminded terrorist acts in Pakistan and launched cross-border attacks, causing tension between the Pakistani and Afghan governments.

However, Afghan security forces along with allied forces killed or captured a number of TTP militants in Afghanistan in both ground operations and in air strikes, further crippling the terror outfit.

The deaths and internal rifts left the TTP crumbling up until early 2020, but the recent reunification of disgruntled splinter groups and the Afghan Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan have reinvigorated the group.

The TTP has in recent months stepped up its attacks on law enforcement agencies in Pakistan's border districts -- a former TTP stronghold until the Pakistani military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2014.

Emboldening terrorists

Ahead of Khan's interview, President Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi both separately suggested in September that the government could pardon TTP members if they agreed to lay down arms and adhere to the constitution.

Following their comments, the TTP in a statement on September 17 rejected any potential amnesty unless the government agreed to impose Islamic laws in the country.

"[A] pardon is usually offered to those who commit crimes, but we are quite proud of our struggle," TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani said in the statement.

Past peace agreements with the TTP have failed to restore peace and have instead emboldened and strengthened the militant group, say observers.

TTP leaders failed to hold up their end of the deals inked in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.

In past peace talks, Pakistani authorities "abdicated the writ to the TTP and ultimately had to restore it through subsequent military operations, incurring huge human and economic costs", Mona Naseer, a rights activist from Pakistan's former tribal areas, wrote in The News International on October 19.

"Granting the privilege of talks to brutal murderers who have already benefited from war will not only seriously undermine the credibility of this government but will also mean recognition of the TTP, which is often perceived as conferring a certain degree of legitimacy to their actions," she said.

"The [Afghan] Taliban's takeover in Afghanistan has no doubt boosted the TTP's morale and increased the group's strength," said a counter-terrorism police official in Karachi.

In such a situation, by offering the TTP clemency, the government has not only emboldened the terror group but also provided it recognition, the official said.

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