ISLAMABAD -- The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has extended a ceasefire with the Pakistani government in order to hold peace talks, even after it carried out terror attacks throughout the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
A TTP ceasefire agreed for Eid al-Fitr has now been extended until next Monday (May 16), according to tribal elders.
Elders from South Waziristan earlier on May 6 formed a 35-member council to revive talks between the Pakistani government and the TTP leadership.
"The committee members visited Afghanistan to meet the TTP leaders to convince them to approve a ceasefire and initiate peace talks that were suspended in December last year," said Khan, a tribal elder who asked to use only his surname for security reasons.
"We are hopeful that the ceasefire will continue at least for a month," he said.
A letter released by the TTP also directed its fighters "not to violate the decision taken by the group's central leadership".
Islamabad has not yet formally issued a statement on the issue.
Last November, Islamabad conducted peace negotiations with the TTP that resulted in a month-long ceasefire.
However, the TTP on December 9 announced an end to the truce and resumed attacks on Pakistani law enforcement forces after Islamabad refused to release 100 militants, including the group's former spokesman in the Swat Valley, from various prisons.
Opposition to peace talks
Then-Prime Minister Imran Khan announced last October that the government was in talks with the group for the first time since 2014.
Past peace agreements with the TTP failed to restore peace and instead emboldened and strengthened the militant group, they said.
TTP leaders violated deals that they inked in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009.
The TTP has conducted hundred of attacks on 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.
Seven years after a military crackdown on the TTP, Islamabad is now trying to quell a comeback by the group.
"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, he said.
The TTP have gained confidence over the past year, a counter-terrorism police official in Karachi said on the condition of anonymity.
Pakistan witnessed a 42% increase in terrorist attacks in 2021 from the previous year, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based security think-tank.
The TTP alone in 2021 was responsible for 87 attacks (84% more than in 2020), killing 158 people, PIPS observed.
"In such a situation, by offering the TTP clemency, the government has not only emboldened the terror group but also provided it recognition," said the counter-terrorism official.
Violence during Ramadan
The TTP on March 30 announced plans for an offensive during Ramadan. The holy month began April 3 in Pakistan.
The "spring offensive" would begin on the first day of Ramadan and would target security forces and their collaborators, Muhammad Khurasani, a TTP spokesman, said at the time.
The TTP claimed to have carried out 57 attacks, killing 97 people and injuring more than 100 during Ramadan, according to a TTP statement released at the end of the holy month.
Independent observers could not verify the TTP's claims because of the inaccessibility of the Pakistani-Afghan border zone.
Islamic scholars and peace activists have condemned the TTP for carrying out terrorist acts in the holy month.
"The TTP, the 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) and other terror groups have nothing to do with Islam," said Mufti Abdul Qavi, an Islamabad-based Islamic scholar.
"They have no respect for the holy month of Ramadan."