Of Changing Perceptions: From ‘Terrorists’ to ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban’

As negotiations proceed with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) by means of a new committee led by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) in consultation with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman, Imran Khan, and party leadership – rather than anticipating the conclusion of these roundtables, a more imminent concern is the political legitimacy such negotiations may provide to similar militant organisations in the near and distant future.

Article 256 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan states: “no private organization capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organisation shall be illegal.” The dialogue process, therefore, not only sets a questionable precedent but also raises serious concerns about the wider repercussions of ‘legitimising’ terrorist groups; especially within the domain of the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan, where violence can easily be justified in the name of “Islam” – take the recent example of Sawan Masih, a Christian, being sentenced to death for blasphemy in the Joseph Colony case.

In a state where the “Islam” card can trump all, even the sanctity of human life – such dialogues could potentially reinforce the already prevalent extremist mindset in Pakistan, thus ‘legitimising’ terrorist groups, their goals and even their violent means. Additionally, the ruling government runs the risk of weakening the fabric of democracy through such negotiations with the TTP – democracy being in its nascent form in Pakistan (Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) having completed its five-year democratic tenure for the first time in the history of Pakistan).

Likewise, whether intentional or unintentional, recently there has been a notable shift in the naming conventions for TTP in the mainstream and social media in Pakistan from ‘terrorist’ group to “TTP”. This, however, maybe a deliberate effort by the government in order to promote the peace dialogues, as we come to terms with the politics of naming groups as ‘terrorist’ or otherwise – ‘terrorist’ designation is often an attempt to delegitimise a group in a situation where negotiation is not considered an option, whereas using alternative naming terminologies can endorse the dialogue process by opening up a forum for non-violent engagement where concerns of the involved parties can be heard.

Historically, legitimation of ‘terrorist’ groups through negotiations has at times produced favourable results – for example, in the case of Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Philippines. However, both cases involved somewhat “nationalistic” conflicts where a compromise could be reached. If we disregard the naivety of the statement made by the Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan, on 27 March: “TTP only want to get out of US war, not impose Shariah by force”, then there may be a strong possibility of the peace dialogues’ success.

It should also be noted that TTP is not the only militant group threatening the safety and security in Pakistan. TTP has denied involvement in recent terrorist attacks, attributing these to other terrorist groups who aim to destabilise the peace talks. While rightly pointed out by Zeeshan Salahuddin in his blog ‘Pakistan and Taliban: New Bedfellows’ that “this begs the obvious question: if the TTP cannot control and/or reprimand other groups, what is the point of negotiating with them?” – the peace talks, however, may be a first step towards dismantling the terrorist network in Pakistan.

Even amidst the peace negotiations, the core issue still remains: how do we negotiate with an average Pakistanis’ fanatic mindset that gains legitimacy from the objectives resolution and the constitution of Pakistan.

Sana Hameed Baba


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