ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR - Humbled by days of deadly airstrikes on their dens, Taliban Saturday announced a month-long unilateral ceasefire in an effort to get resumed the peace talks with the government.
Showing magnanimity and commitment to peace, the government –which now clearly has an upper hand – was quick to reciprocate with Interior Minister Ch Nisar telling TTP nominated committee head Samiul Haq that government would come up with positive response to this positive move.
A private TV channel reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also had started consultations with civilian and military leadership for halting airstrikes in Fata to help resume the peace process, which was derailed last month by unrelenting terrorist attacks by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The government formally announced talks’ suspension after the Taliban-linked militants murdered 23 kidnapped FC soldiers last month. The security forces then responded by targeted airstrikes at militant hideouts in Fata which left more than 100 insurgents dead. The government it categorically declared that dialogue would not resume until TTP hounds stop their bloody activities and Taliban announce a unilateral truce.
A previously arrogant and heedless TTP Saturday said all of its groups were stopping hostilities for one month. In a face-saving attempt, TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid said in a media statement that they are halting their militant operations “in the larger interest of Islam and Pakistan, and at the appeal of religious scholars”.
“We announce a month-long ceasefire from today and appeal to all our comrades to respect the decision and refrain from any activity during this period”, he said in the statement. He said that the TTP top leadership has directed all groups to fully honour the ceasefire with the government and “refrain from all Jihadi activities during this period”.
Shahidullah said the ceasefire decision was taken with the consultation of the Shura and consent of the TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah. He warned that strict action would be taken if any of its affiliated groups would violate the decision of the central leadership. The umbrella militant origination comprising of around 44 groups, some which have a nominal association with the TTP and practically are out of its control.
Sources said that TTP leadership took the ceasefire decision after consultation with members of the Taliban nominated committee. TTP spokesman said they have been given solid assurances by the committee nominated to negotiate with government that the government had accepted their recommendations and the same would be implemented in true letter and spirit.
“The government has given a positive response to our suggestions. We have been assured that these suggestions will be implemented,” the TTP spokesperson said. “We hope the government would seriously respond to our step and will make progress in a positive manner in the matter by continuing the negotiation process,” he said, repeating the claim that TTP had started dialogue process with the government with sincerity.
Quickly reciprocating the TTP gesture with the same warmth, Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali rang up the TTP named negotiation committee head Samiul Haq, who is in Saudi Arabia nowadays to perform Umera, and assured that government would come up with positive response to this positive move. He in his message congratulated the whole nation upon the ceasefire announcement by the TTP.
Samiul Haq reportedly said that government should take advantage of this golden opportunity. Sami said that whole nation should pray for converting this temporary truce into permanent peace. In his talk with Nisar, he asked government to call a joint meeting of both government and TTP committees as soon as possible. He said that he would be back to the country today (Sunday) from Saudi Arabia.
Sources said that both the leaders agreed to draw the contours of the negotiations for which both the government and TTP committees would meet shortly. Sources further said that the interior minister gave assurance to Samiul Haq that none of the TTP captives in the government custody would be harmed as feared by the TTP central leadership.
The government-formed dialogue committee also welcomed the Taliban’s decision. Welcoming the ceasefire, government peace committee coordinator Irfan Siddiqui said it a positive step and he expressed the hope that the stalled peace process would start again for the collective good of the people of Pakistan. Siddiqui termed the move a step in the right direction. He, however, said that they were waiting to receive a formal message from the Taliban talks committee.
Siddiqui said that if the Taliban are serious about peace talks and the announcement of the ceasefire then the development would bring the suspended negotiation process back on the track. He said that after the Taliban mediators formally inform them, the government committee would soon hold a meeting to decide on their next step.
TTP’s peace committee member Prof Muhammad Ibrahim Khan also welcomed the ceasefire and said that it was the first step towards restarting the dialogue process. Ceasefire was the main demand of the government and it has been fulfilled, he said, adding that now it was government’s turn to fulfil their demands including arranging their meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, army chief and ISI DG.
But Maj (r) Aamir, who is also a member of government peace committee, said that role of both government and TTP nominated committees have come to an end as both government and TTP should hold talks now directly.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, another member of the four-man government talks team, welcomed the ceasefire and said that the government should take advantage of this development, adding that the peace talks should continue. The government’s committee and other political figures have been urging Taliban to announce unconditional ceasefire to farther the peace talks. “Certainly we see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The government too should announce a ceasefire to further strengthen the confidence-building measure.”
Despite near-daily attacks by the militants and air strikes by the government on insurgent hideouts, Pakistan’s negotiators have insisted that the door for talks is still open. But it is yet unclear if the government would immediately halt airstrikes as interior minister Thursday said that talks could “resume anytime soon... (but) both negotiations and targeted strikes will go hand in hand”.