Constitutes four-member committee for negotiations, sets no time frame

Contrary to expectations, Prime Minister Muhammed Nawaz Sharif gave the flailing dialogue process with the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) another chance on Wednesday by constituting a four-member committee for the purpose.

Making an appearance in the National Assembly after several months, Mr. Sharif made it clear that terrorism and talks cannot go together and called on the militants to end terror attacks. The country cannot be held hostage to terrorism, he said but since the other side had also shown interest in talks, the government had decided to give the militants one more chance, he said. There should be no politics on this issue and he called for everyone to be on the same page with the decision. He did not set a time frame but was all for transparency in the talks.

The committee comprises special assistant to the Prime Minister and columnist Irfan Siddiqui, Major (retd.) Mohammed Amir, a former ISI man involved in Operation Midnight Jackal, Rahimullah Yousafzai, a senior journalist based in Peshawar and Rustom Shah Mohmand, former Pakistan ambassador to Kabul, who was nominated by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. While Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will supervise the committee, Mr. Sharif will oversee the talks.

Mr. Sharif said terrorism had claimed thousands of lives and yet the government appealed for peace. Last year the All Parties Conference (APC) gave it the mandate for a dialogue with the TTP. The terrorists had been invited for talks, not to play with innocent lives and to respect the Constitution. They refused to accept this and attacked army officers, military convoys, polio teams, bombed the market near the GHQ, a church and markets in Peshawar and a young schoolboy was killed in Hangu. There were many incidents of terrorism after the APC and no law or religion could countenance this. He said he shared the grief and pain of the families who lost their loved ones.

He also blamed the 14 years of terrorism on the former military dictatorship and said they were now reaping the bitter harvest. The government was doing everything to stop drone strikes but on the other hand, the terrorists were killing innocent people. This was an intolerable situation, he said. He also agreed in response to some points raised by Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf chairperson Imran Khan that talks should be open and transparent. He agreed the talks should not go on forever but if there was some movement, then a time frame could be set. Achieving peace was the goal for the government and it would get there at any cost, he added.

Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah, while endorsing the dialogue, said it should be within a time frame. Mr. Khan was more critical but he backed the government’s move.

He said that there was confusion on the government’s intent which was veering towards a military operation. He said the talks should be open and the media should be kept in the loop.

Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement said the offer for talks came on a day when blasts targeted the Rangers office in Karachi, killing three. He said talks should be an option along with a military operation. What guarantee is there these talks will succeed, he asked. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he cautioned.

Mr. Siddiqui told the media later that the committee would prepare a roadmap for a dialogue. It was significant that three out of four members of the committee were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Mr. Mohmand, one of the members of the committee, told The Hindu on the phone that the success of the talks would depend on what kind of mandate the committee was given. It should have sufficient flexibility and the government would have to clarify on various issues and points of negotiation.

For instance the release of Taliban prisoners, the issue of foreign militants, and compensation package for the surrendered militants. The other side also needs to have trust and if there is an accord, will the government implement it? The government should also watch rival groups carefully as they may try to sabotage the peace process. Calling for a ceasefire would be premature unless some genuine and meaningful contact was established, he pointed out.