Last week saw some interesting developments: acts of high profile militancy and terrorism were disowned and condemned by the TTP in very strong words, perhaps indicating a change of mindset; fierce infighting within the TTP cadres indicated its eroding integrity as a single entity; and the government faced stiff political resistance in its pursuit to process the ‘Protection of Pakistan Bill’ in the parliament demonstrating that political expediency has over taken the keenness to combat terrorism.

So far, the peace process with the TTP appears to be on the right trajectory. The ceasefire will help the government to identify actors who have been committing militancy but remained under the shadow of the Taliban. Now it is time to set a mutually agreeable framework for dialogue and beyond. The process should culminate in the reintegration of TTP cadres into the socio-political and economic mainstream. It is not an easy, or savoury chore; there will be resistance from many vested interests from within and outside Pakistan. Nevertheless, it is workable.

The most challenging task would be to keep the process from getting embroiled in trivial controversies. So far, the teams representing the two sides have shown pragmatism. Both sides seem determined to exercise restraint, show patience and sincerity to comply with the truce. Fortunately no suicide bombings and fresh attacks on civilian installations and security forces have either been claimed by or attributed to the TTP. Though incidents of violence continue to take place, people are generally satisfied that at least the main and most lethal entity is not responsible. This is a ray of hope.

While the talks proceed, the government needs to be watchful of weaning national consensus. Likewise, the suspension of drone attacks by the US on Pakistan’s persuasion has also helped in the continuity of negotiations. The government should invest in the maintenance of unwavering public and political support as well as American goodwill towards the peace process. At the same time, the TTP should be mindful that there is a very strong lobby that spares no opportunity for advocating its decimation through the use of force by law enforcement agencies. The onus of not letting the pro-force lobby gain more strength rests with the actions of the TTP; this could be done through the expression of good conduct with respect to the ceasefire, and the avoidance of empty rhetoric.

Parameters of the talks, specifically the end objectives, should be defined. Concessions to the Taliban should not be a one way street; these should be well structured in the form of tangible and measurable quid pro quos. In a parallel stream, reciprocal confidence building measures should lead towards general amnesty and economic opportunities for the demobilised combatants of the TTP.

A level of trust appears to have been created between negotiating parties. It is heartening that both sides are committed to avoid any prolonged deadlocks. Efforts must be made to capitalize on the initial success, appreciating the goodwill and sense of compassion of both sides.

Dialogue with the TTP is a complicated and intricate process warranting a cool temperament and a shrewd posture. Calmness must be maintained under all circumstances and a comprehensive strategy should be prepared to handle different stages of dialogue with dignity. Govt must exercise prudence in accommodating TTP viewpoints and meeting their demands. This entails the adoption of a stable and balanced approach. While doing so, the prestige and image of the armed forces must be maintained. Confused pledges and evasive statements mislead the public. Point scoring through media statements gives birth to grievances which lead to confrontations and conflicts.

The TTP was badly hit by pinpointed air-strikes undertaken in February. On March 12, during a meeting, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, reaffirmed full preparedness and resolve of the armed forces to fight the menace of terrorism under a comprehensive strategy, within the policy parameters set by the political leadership.

The TTP shura demanded direct talks with authorized government functionaries, including representatives of the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Though the army is against any such direct involvement, the TTP demands are being entertained while maintaining a posture of denial.

The withdrawal of army regulars from FATA is premature until suitable conditions are created. However, it should not be a show stopper; it’s a question of “when” rather than “why.” FATA has traditionally been a non-militarized zone. Although a strong army garrison is present in Miranshah, the writ of the state does not run in many of its areas and perhaps the army needs to re-calibrate its stance on keeping the troops in FATA for an indefinite time.

While the civilian political leadership seems keen to continue dialogue, the army should not see it as ineffectual appeasement; it should view it as a complementary effort to achieve an ends; the end of militancy and a peaceful FATA. Likewise, there is a need to take a proactive approach towards the establishment of a “peace zone” outside North Waziristan. We must understand that the Taliban are our own citizens and not foreign occupation forces.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.

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