PESHAWAR - The peace negotiators representing the government and Taliban met on Wednesday to resume the stalled peace talks, saying they were ready to move to a decisive ‘second phase’.
The government committee visited Akora Khattak and met with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) named peace negotiators to resume the stalled peace process and work out modalities for future engagement. They agreed to the proposal to setup a bigger and more powerful government negotiating team to make the process more meaningful and result oriented.
The government opened negotiations with the TTP last month in a bid to end their bloody seven-year insurgency, but the process broke down more than two weeks ago after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers. The Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire at the weekend and the two sides met in the country’s northwest on Wednesday.
On Wednesday, government committee head Irfan Siddqui, along with other members – Major (r) Amir, Rustam Shah Mohmand and Rahimullah Yousufzai – met Taliban negotiation committee head Samiul Haq, member Prof Mohamamd Ibrahim Khan and coordinator Yousaf Shah and formally resumed the frosted process.
The resumption came despite a major attack in Islamabad on Monday claimed by a splinter group that killed 11 people and a roadside bomb killing six paramilitary troops on Wednesday. A joint statement read out after the meeting in Akora Khattak, 50 kilometres east of Peshawar, said the talks had entered a ‘crucial stage’.
Both the committees would soon hold a joint meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to draw future line of action, sources said. The first phase of talks has successfully come to an end and more important decisions would be taken in the second round, they said. The two committees, therefore, agreed to include representatives of the federal government, the army, the parliament and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in the government committee, sources said.
The recommendation was pushed forward by retired Major Amir Khan during a meeting of the committee members with PM Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday. The federal government may work on the proposal immediately to make the second round more productive, sources said. The proposed new government committee may comprise members from PML-N led government as well as members from the armed forces. Moreover, KPK chief minister or his representative would also be added to the committee, while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan would be the focal person, sources said.
Inclusion of Taliban shura members in the Taliban committee was also recommended, source said, adding government and Taliban committees agreed to welcome direct talks between government and Taliban, as direct talks could take the talks to success soon, sources said. They said that proposal to dissolve the existing government and Taliban committees also came under discussion. After a ceasefire between government and Taliban there is no need of the existing committees anymore, sources quoted a negotiator as saying. However, Samiul Haq and Irfan Siddiqui – the heads of the two committees reportedly disagreed with the dissolution of existing committees.
However, they fully agreed that after the big achievement of a ceasefire, Taliban shura members and state representatives should sit together and carry forward peace talks. Both sides also agreed that Taliban should denounce all terrorist acts occurring after the announcement of the ceasefire.
Lead government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui told reporters they had made “satisfactory” progress. “We are now launching the second phase of the dialogue after completion of the first one”, which involved making contacts, working on the framework for the dialogue process and on mutual consultations on relevant issues.
“The second phase will be of decision-making and we have to make important and far-reaching decisions... Our committee felt and had informed the prime minister that in this new phase, to make the dialogue more productive, we may have to make some changes,” he said. He refuted the media reports that government committee was being dissolved. “If it were so, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Siddiqui said any decision to make any change in the govern team or dissolution of the existing committee will be taken by the government. He said that Taliban committee had expressed the desire to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and “they will be facilitated”.
Taliban committee head Samiul Haq welcomed the ceasefire announced by the government and the TTP calling it ‘big achievement’. He said the TTP hadn’t demanded any amendment in the constitution. He applauded the role of PM for continuing dialogue process despite international pressure. Sami also announced that the two committees will be meeting with the PM on Thursday (today).
Sami said the committees had opened the door for dialogue and it was now up to the stakeholders to make the decisions. Sami, while reading out the joint statement, said that after successful first round of talks there is a need to adopt a comprehensive strategy to carry forward the process for meaningful resolution of the issue.
But he stressed the two sides need to stop blaming each other and identify the enemies of peace – ‘the third powers which are averse to peace in Pakistan’. He said that Taliban have disowned the Islamabad district court attacks this week, adding Taliban have said they have never heard of Ahrarul Hind – an unknown militant group that claimed responsibility for the attacks. Taliban themselves were investigating to know whereabouts of that militant group, he said, adding enemies of peace will continue to make their attempts to sabotage the process. “We will have to deal with the situation with patience,” he stressed.
Reacting to the reports of getting the army involved in the peace talks, Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah, while speaking in Islamabad, said inclusion of any army officer in the government committee to hold talks with the Taliban will be dangerous.
Shah said that army was meant to obey government’s order and armed forces’ involvement in peace talks with terrorists will have serious consequences if the negotiations failed. However, he said a retired army man could be included in the committee if it was essential. He added that he does not have any objections to whether the government holds the peace talks themselves or via an intermediary committee.
Senators from opposition as well as treasury benches on Tuesday criticised the government’s policy of holding talks with the banned TTP and said it betrayed “weakness of the state”. They said Monday’s terrorist attack on Islamabad courts revealed a “serious security lapse” and “failure of the state”. In their hard-hitting speeches in the house, the opposition senators lashed out at Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for not coming to the house to brief them on the incident and refused to listen to his deputy Balighur Rehman.
The Leader of Opposition in the Senate, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, even declared the prime minister and the interior minister “absconders” and the PPP’s parliamentary leader Raza Rabbani asked Chaudhry Nisar to resign in the wake of the attack that had take place despite his tall claims about security arrangements in the capital city. The opposition also disrupted the proceedings by staging walkout and pointing out lack of quorum, for the third time during the current session of the Senate, forcing Chairman Nayyar Bokhari to adjourn the sitting.