The federal government has decided to hold direct talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a significant development that has renewed hopes of a concrete peace deal.
The decision to evolve a new mechanism for the crucial phase of talks was taken after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held a breakfast meeting with members of both the government and the Taliban peace committees on Thursday.
Separately, addressing the National Assembly, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said peace talks with the Taliban will resume next week after the federal government reconstitutes the negotiation committee. However, he did not elaborate on the composition of the proposed committee.
This altered route marks the ‘new mechanism’ of the peace talks that was decided in the meeting with the prime minister – the first time the Taliban intermediaries met the premier since the government initiated peace talks with the TTP.
Maulana Samiul Haq, Maulana Yousaf Shah and Professor Ibrahim Khan represented the Taliban’s side and members of the government’s peace committee, including Irfan Siddiqi, Rustam Shah Mohmand, Major (Retd) Amir and Rahimullah Yousafzai, attended the meeting.
“The first phase of the talks between the Taliban and the government has been completed and now both sides would hold direct talks,” Irfan Siddiqi told reporters after the meeting.
Meanwhile, Maulana Samiul Haq, the convener of the Taliban-nominated committee, told reporters that it was time that “all the major stakeholders” should be part of the fragile negotiation process. “There is a need of a new strategy in order to make the process more effective and result-oriented.”
Officials revealed that under the new mechanism or strategy, senior government officials including Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar – who would be the focal person – officials from the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), besides representatives of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government would hold direct talks with the Taliban Political Shura.
Some media outlets reported that the current committees would be dissolved. However, an official statement issued by the Prime Minister House said Nawaz Sharif pointed out that the government would still require the help of the peace committees in the next phase of dialogue.
Moreover, officials said future talks with the TTP are likely to be held at secret locations. However, in the National Assembly session, the interior minister said that unlike the past, the negotiation will be held directly and everything will be made regarding the meetings.
“We will push forward dialogue with those who want peace through dialogue and those will be dealt with iron hand which don’t want negotiation,” reiterating that a majority of the Taliban-affiliated groups were in favour of dialogue and peace.
The fate of talks was uncertain following Monday’s gun-and-suicide terrorist attack on Islamabad’s district courts. However, the government decided to go ahead with the process after the TTP distanced itself from the attack.
It is not clear, however, whether the army would like to get involved directly in the process as opposition parties objected to its inclusion in the talks.
Meanwhile, Army Chief General Raheel Sharif will consult his top commanders over the issue when he chairs a meeting of Corps Commanders on Friday (today).
The Joint Intelligence Directorate and NISP
Later, during the National Assembly session, Chaudhry Nisar said the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) and National Crisis Management Cell will soon be merged and a Joint Intelligence Directorate will also be established to strengthen system of intelligence sharing among the intelligence agencies.
Nisar mentioned that the Prime Minister will hold meeting with all the chief ministers next week and will seek their support in the strengthening of intelligence-sharing with and across the provinces.
Talking about the National Internal Security Policy (NISP), which was debated in the house, the minister said that without a policy, it will be difficult to handle this menace. “NISP is the policy under which terrorism would be handled in a systematic way.”
Earlier, taking part in the NISP debate, the chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Maulana Fazalur Rehman, said that this is not a war against terrorism but “is a war among civilisations and faiths, which needs to be understood”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2014.