ISLAMABAD - Admitting some uneasiness in civil military relations following some provocative statements, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan Sunday denied any rift between the government and the military leadership.
Addressing a press conference – focusing Taliban talks and Islamabad fruit market blast – he said the government and armed forces are on the same page on the issue of Taliban talks as well as release of prisoners.
"There is positive, frank and honest response from the military... I have not seen such response from them (army) in the last 30 years of my political career," he told media men at the Punjab House. However, the minister did admit that an irritant had come between the two sides but he said "we will get over it soon".
Nisar said there were very complex issues ranging from internal security to foreign policy but the line from both sides was right and straight. "If they (military) had not supported us hundred percent (on peace talks), we would have not travelled so far on this matter."
About release of prisoners, he said, "This impression is wrong that army is not on track regarding release of (Taliban) prisoners... Earlier, 19 non-combatants of Mehsud tribe were released with the consultations of the army and 12 or 13 more were being released." Most of the prisoners being released were in the internment centres of the army, he informed, asking how they could be released without taking the army on board.
Interior minister also ruled out that combatants would be released at the moment, saying that stage has not come yet as it would be decided when talks process would be in the concluding stage. "Taliban had not demanded release of combatants and the demand was only of non-combatants," he said.
"There is warlike situation, army is in Fata and prisoners are being held by the army then how one can say that combatant prisoners would be released," he remarked. He said that the government had also demanded from Taliban to release some prisoners, including sons of former governor Salman Taseer and former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as well as Professor Ajmal Khan and others.
About the status of ongoing talks with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Nisar said that dialogue process was neither suspended nor deadlocked. He said all the reports suggesting such things were speculative and devoid of facts. He said that next round of talks could not be held because the government team was incomplete as some members were abroad and the process would resume next week. Another issue was that of fixing a date for the meeting as there is curfew except on Tuesday where talks would be held.
The next face-to-face meeting between the government committee and Taliban would be on a comprehensive agenda and formal comprehensive talks would start with that meeting, he said. The next round of talks was crucial as both sides would put their main agendas on the table, and the agenda of the government was clear that is to attain peace in the country. He said the government could flush out militants from Waziristan within weeks but who would stop them from exploding bombs in the bazaars and at the public places.
Replying to the question as to how many groups of militants the government was talking to, Ch Nisar said, "It is not just about the TTP rather there are half a dozen groups other than it". He said 37 factions of militants were under the umbrella of TTP. "(But) there are other groups too who don't come under TTP umbrella and who are involved in recent acts of violence."
Responding a question about Islamabad fruit market blast, the minister said that there was ceasefire and both sides were abiding by it. About cession of violence and hostilities, he said ceasefire held since talks started a couple of weeks ago was still in place and there have been just five to seven acts of violence since then.
Chaudhry Nisar said that the claim of United Baloch Army (UBA) about his involvement in Islamabad blast was rejected on the basis of intelligence report as well as police investigation. "Viable intelligence report says that roots of the incident were somewhere else." He however refused to name any group. He said that initial investigation shows that explosive material was placed in guava crates and these were transported through public transport from southern Punjab and not through any goods transport vehicle.
"These crates were reloaded in a pickup from Rawalpindi/Islamabad... The police have focussed the area from where crates were transported, specific vehicle and labourer who unloaded the fruit and then reloaded it," he informed. The minister went on to explain that fruit market was in the suburbs of the capital covering 400 kanals of area where 10 to 15 thousand people daily gather and it could not be closed at all.
"Slums of foreigners are adjacent to it and 200,000 people were living in these slums." He criticised last government purchased scanners at Rs1 billion and Rs420 million were paid of it but these were ineffective. He informed that the capital had been divided into sectors for surveillance and Punjab Police Elite Commandos and Rangers would do surveillance round the clock.
Permanent Islamabad IGP and SSP will assume the charge of their duties from next week. Security cameras would be installed in Islamabad within a year through Safe City project and two busy roads would be covered in the project, he added.