LAHORE - A senior member of the country’s premier security service will take part in government’s first direct contact with the Taliban, while the government’s peace committee has the mandate to negotiate the release of prisoners in TTP captivity in return for low profile militant detainees, The Nation has learnt.

Well-placed sources, privy to the developments concerning the first direct meeting which is expected in a couple of days, told this correspondent on Tuesday that a senior member of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) would participate in the meeting with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Shura members.

They said that the TTP leadership had insisted that direct participation of ISI in the dialogue process was necessary for a durable peace deal. They further said that TTP team had conveyed their strong wish to the government through their emissaries to send a senior member of the country’s top secret service along with the largely bureaucratic government peace team.

A senior member of government peace team while confirming TTP’s wish for ISI representation in the direct talks said that the top agency would be on board. Asked to elaborate what ‘on board’ means, he said that he could not reveal further details due to sensitivity of the process and to avert pressure from the forces opposing the peace dialogue.

He also said that member of the previous government committee, Major (r) Muhammad Amir would also be part of the first direct contact with the TTP team. He added that Amir had been engaged again because of his close contacts with some of the Taliban leaders due to his family background and his expertise being a former ISI man.

Saying that prisoners release on both sides would be top of the agenda, he said that the government’s team has the mandate to negotiate the release of the prisoners in TTP captivity in return for their low profile detainees. He however added that prisoners’ release was a delicate issue and it would be discussed category-wise, as the elements who only played minor role in assisting TTP would fall in the list.

The peace team member said that if the TTP demanded amnesty for high-profile leadership or release of those involved in high-profile acts of terror, the matter would directly fall into the jurisdiction of the security establishment without a shadow of doubt.

About the possibilities of permanent ceasefire, he said that the government had been conveyed through the TTP mediating team for the strong likelihood of a permanent ceasefire but the TTP desires release of some of its non-combatant detainees in an effort to win some support among the anti-dialogue elements.

Talking about other items to be discussed in the first direct contact, he said, “It may take some time to ponder upon the other expected demands of the TTP, which include amnesty for TTP leadership, withdrawal of the armed forces and compensation to the affectees.”

He observed: “First few rounds of meetings with TTP may only be aimed at taking confidence building measures (CBMs), while it could take time to make the dialogue fruitful.”

Meanwhile, some other sources told this scribe that the first few meetings with the TTP would be held in some kind of a neutral tribal zone acceptable to both sides, while the venue would be shifted to the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as soon as the two sides take some CBMs as a result of the direct contacts.

About the fate of high-profile hostages, among them the sons of former premier Yusuf Raza Gilani and the late governor Salman Taseer, sources quoted the TTP mediators as claiming that both theses kidnapped men were not in TTP captivity. However, the TTP could be helpful in finding and securing their release from other militants, who according to TTP were outside the umbrella of their organisation.