ISLAMABAD, Pakistan- The Pakistan government announced Sunday that it was halting air strikes against the Pakistani Taliban a day after the militant Islamist group said it was beginning a month-long ceasefire in a bid to restart stalled peace talks with the government. The talks, which began last month, are aimed at ending a nearly decade-long Taliban insurgency that has killed thousands of Pakistanis and left vast swathes of the country’s northwest tribal areas under the control of violent Islamists.
The ceasefire announcement by the Pakistani Taliban that occurred on March 1 came just hours after an insurgent leader, Mullah Tamanchey, orchestrated an assault against a convoy carrying a polio vaccination team and security forces, killing 12 people.
Hours after the convoy attack, the Taliban said it would begin a one-month ceasefire in an effort to re-launch negotiations with the Pakistani government. Shahidullah Shahid, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said the Islamist militant group had decided to institute a ceasefire because it had received ” a positive response from the government, an appeal from the religious scholars and for the better future of Pakistan.”
Before the announcement on March 2 that the government was halting airstrikes against the Taliban, Pakistani warplanes retaliated for Saturday’s convoy assault, bombing a hideout of Mullah Tamanchey, according to the military. The bombing raid killed five militants, the military said.
Negotiations between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and the Pakistani Taliban, formally called the Tehreek-e-Pakistan (TTP,) began February 6 and broke down days later after a TTP faction announced that it had killed 23 paramilitary soldiers it had kidnapped. The executions precipitated airstrikes against militant strongholds in Pakistan’s northwest.
Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim Leage-Nawaz party came to office in May 2013 promising to negotiate with the Islamist group and the peace talks are being viewed as a last-ditch attempt to prevent a government assault on areas under the control of the TTP in the country’s tribal areas.
The TTP came into fruition in late 2007, when a number of militant factions coalesced under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, a tribesman from South Waziristan, a tribal area along the border with neighboring Afghanistan. Mehsud was killed by a United States drone strike in 2009, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, who is of no relation to Baitullah, died in late 2013 in a missile attack launched from another of the unmanned, remotely-piloted American aircraft.
Today, the TTP is a loose coalition of militant Islamist factions that conducts almost daily suicide bombings and maintains a virtual state with in a state in parts of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA,) a large swath of territory that abuts neighboring Afghanistan. It is unclear how much control the central leadership of the Pakistani Taliban has over the disparate militant factions that comprise the TTP.
The Pakistani Taliban says it is fighting to establish an Islamist state governed by Shariah, or Islamic law. Unlike its fellow Islamists in the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban directs its attacks against the Pakistani government and not U.S. forces battling insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan, which the Afghan Taliban hopes to takeover after toppling the American-backed government and driving U.S. troops from the war ravaged country. Although the two Sunni Islamist groups are both ethnic Pashtun- dominated organizations and both find sanctuary in Pakistan’s FATA region, they are distinct groups with completely separate goals.
– Eric Erdahl