ISLAMABAD:A key faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Saturday announced cessation of violent attacks in Pakistan, in the best interests of both ‘Islam and the nation’. The announcement by Punjabi Taliban was accompanied by an appeal to all other militant groups “to stop their violent activities in Pakistan”.
The group, however, says it would continue to fight in neighbouring Afghanistan where the Afghan Taliban have been fighting a deadly insurgency against US-led foreign forces since 2001.
The Punjabi Taliban is the first group in the TTP, an umbrella of several militant organisations, that has decided to disengage. Analysts say renunciation of violence by the Punjabi Taliban would encourage other extremist groups to follow suit. The Taliban militancy has killed and maimed thousands of people, mostly innocent civilians, in the country over the past 10 years.
“We have decided to give up militancy in Pakistan. I’ve taken the decision in the best interests of Islam and the nation. I also appeal to all other armed groups to stop violent activities in Pakistan,” Asmatullah Muaweya, the chief of the Punjabi Taliban, said in a three-minute video message released to the media on Saturday. He added that his group would now focus on Dawah (Islamic preaching) for the “supremacy of Islam and protection of the system.”
“I’ve taken the decision after consulting religious scholars and tribal leaders,” said Muaweya whose group had been blamed for several deadly attacks in the country, especially in Punjab. He also called upon other militant groups to renounce violence and come to the negotiating table as the country was passing through a critical juncture.
At the same time, Muaweya urged the government to take measures for the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of tribesmen displaced by Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency. “It’s not wise to push the tribesmen into the hands of enemies of the people. The government will have to ensure their self-respect and compensate them for their losses.”
The Taliban leader also urged thousands of tribesmen, who had crossed into Afghanistan after the military operation, to return to their own country. He urged the government to facilitate their repatriation.
Asmatullah Muaweya, a former member of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad, joined the TTP after the 2007 operation against radicals holed up in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. However, he pulled out of the group after developing differences with the top cadres and formed his own group, called Jundul Hafsa.
Jundul Hafsa, named after a girls seminary, Jamia Hafsa, attached to Lal Masjid, had claimed responsibility for the June 22, 2013 attack on foreign hikers at a base camp of Nanga Parbat that had left 10 foreigners dead. The group had also claimed responsibility for the attack on Church in Peshawar in September 2013 in which over 80 Christian worshippers were killed.
Last year, the TTP expelled Muaweya after he had issued statements regarding the PML-N government’s proposed peace talks without a prior approval from the central leadership. Muaweya had welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s dialogue offer and had urged Pakistani militants to respond positively to the government’s peace overtures.
On September 5 a statement quoted Muaweya as saying that his group would now shift its focus to Afghanistan and give up operations in Pakistan. A TTP leader told The Express Tribune that Muaweya has already shifted his family to his hometown in Khanewal district of Punjab.