Govt halts air strikes; will only retaliate to violence

* Nisar says govt decided to suspend air strikes after positive announcement by Taliban, but ‘govt, armed forces reserve the right for a befitting response to any act of violence’
Govt halts air strikes; will only retaliate to violence
AFP

ISLAMABAD: In a balancing act, the federal government on Sunday matched the Taliban’s one-month ceasefire with announcement to suspend airstrikes in the volatile tribal areas that have left more than 100 terrorists dead so far.
The announcement by the government to ground its fighter jets comes a day after Taliban announced they had decided ‘not to carry out any activities for one month following a positive response from the government, an appeal from religious scholars, in honour of the representative committee and in the greater interest of Islam and Pakistan’.
“We announce a month-long ceasefire from today and advise all our companions and subgroups to respect the decision and completely refrain from all jihad activities during this time period,” a TTP statement issued on Saturday read.
The interior minister said government considered Taliban’s announcement of ceasefire as a positive development. “After the positive announcement yesterday by the Taliban, the government has decided to halt the air strikes which were continuing for the past few days,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a statement. However, he warned that government would ‘effectively’ retaliate to any act of violence by the Taliban. “Government and the army reserve the right to effectively respond to any act of violence,” the statement maintained.
Nisar clarified that the PML-N government, since coming into power in June last year, neither launched a formal military operation nor it resorted to any unnecessary action against Taliban. He said any action taken by the security forces in the tribal areas was ‘a response to Taliban attack or to stop a violent activity’.
As the government announced halt to air strikes, warplanes bombed hideout of Mullah Tamanchey in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency, killing five suspected terrorists. Tamanchey is accused of directing a deadly attack against a convoy carrying a polio vaccination team and security forces in Jamrud tehsil on Saturday, in which 13 people were killed.
Soon after the ceasefire announcement by the TTP on Saturday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had told Maulana Samiul Haq that the government will positively respond to Taliban’s gesture. 
Where the reciprocation by the government has revived the hopes for resumption of peace talks that floundered over killing of 23 kidnapped FC soldiers by Taliban, TTP’s ceasefire announcement is being seen by some quarters as a tactical move to get some breathing space to regroup after suffering heavy losses in the air strikes. The unilateral announcement by Taliban to hold guns while backtracking from tough demands they had initially put forward for a ceasefire has given rise to scepticism even in the military circles who are seeing it a time-buying ploy to avert an expected full-fledged military operation.
Even religious parties looked divided on the announcement of ceasefire by Taliban. As Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) welcomed the ceasefire announcement and called upon the government to positively respond to the gesture and suspend air strikes in the tribal areas, the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), Sunni Tehreek (ST) and the Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM) termed the ceasefire a TTP ‘ploy’ to buy some time to reorganise themselves. They also urged the government not to halt bombardment on Taliban hideouts and rather launch a full-fledged military operation to wipe out them once and for all.
It is yet to be seen how Taliban react to government’s announcement of hitting back in the advent of any terrorist activity by the terrorists. Taliban groups opposed to peace talks may also try to derail the process. Where TTP needs to effectively implement their ceasefire decision and ensure that none of its affiliates or even the dissidents indulge in a terrorist activity, the civilian leadership of the country will also have to join heads with the military leadership to take them into confidence, bring them on the same page and devise a plan to make the peace initiative productive. But one thing is clear: the ceasefire announcement has at least allowed the government to isolate and wipe out those opposed to the dialogue process.

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