Asmatullah Muawiya, chief of the Punjabi Taliban, declared on Saturday that his terrorist chapter would no longer continue its armed struggle in Pakistan, and would instead seek to spread Shariah in the country through peaceful means. Less than a month ago, Muawiya was “sacked” by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership for being too welcoming with regards to negotiations with the Pakistan government. He emerged as the “rational” terrorist, and his intentions to pull out of active engagement have been apparent for a while. But for an organisation such as the Punjabi Taliban which consists loosely of a number of organisations such as the Sipah-e-Sihaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, has a rather incoherent hierarchy and informal power structure, are the comments of one leader significant enough to warrant any relief? Are they even believable? And does this mean that the state should pat them gratefully on the back for expressing good intent, and move on from what has been an unforgivable run?

Running through the macabre “highlights” of the Punjabi Taliban’s role in spreading terror in the country’s heartlands, one is faced with incidents of overwhelming violence and seething intolerance. From the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti to the Sri Lankan cricket team attack to the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott to consistent targeting of Ahmedi and Shia communities, to the 2009 attack on the police training academy, it would be a gross injustice to overlook a single soul taken in the name of the hateful ideology this group has preached. They have been the terrorist masterminds; more educated, more urban, more technological savvy than the Pashtun chapter of the TTP, and they have provided passage, brainpower, manpower, logistical support and arms for deadly attacks over the years. How can the state, how can the nation move on from this? It just isn’t that simple. It is no secret that the Punjabi Taliban, through their extensive madrassah network have preached their ideology to thousands of vulnerable children. If this is the peace they profess they will stick to now, we would like none of it. Before anybody from the public or the state moves forward for a celebratory hug to Muawiya’s soldiers, now would be a good time to stop, pause, reflect. How much have we suffered at the hands of this group? How many innocent families, innocent minorities, innocent children have been ravaged by the violence they stand for? Do ideologies really change so quickly? Do we just take the terrorist’s word that they do? Do we breathe a sigh of relief or become more cautious of the systemic shifts the TTP is clearly undergoing? Do we go after the madrassahs or leave them be because they said they’re not going to blow us up (for now)? Its simple. We don’t take their word for it. We don’t hail this as a victory. It isn’t. It is a strategic move by terrorists, and we need to deal with it strategically.