As mainstream political parties on Friday questioned the rationale and strategy for government’s dialogue with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the talks were meant to wean away the reconcilable elements at a time when the group was at a weak point.
Speaking via video link at a dialogue of the political parties on the government’s talks with TTP, the minister insisted that not everyone in TTP was ideologically committed to the outlawed group and many of them were ready for reconciling with the state.
The IPI, a local think tank, hosted the event with a view to assessing the political and security ramifications of the start of the government’s dialogue with TTP; and analysing the challenge of extending legitimacy to the terrorist group.
Chaudhry emphasised that the hardcore base of the group was very narrow, comprising hardly 1500-2000 militants, and “getting the reconcilables to part ways” with it would weaken it.
“The state wants to give an opening to the people, who do not want to raise arms against us. We can’t prolong fights generation after generations,” he said, adding that those who would not renounce violence would be dealt with sternly.
The minister argued that the government was negotiating from a position of strength unlike the mistake committed by the United States in Afghanistan that did not talk to Afghan Taliban when it was at the acme of its power. He disclosed that some of the TTP factions were linked to Afghan Taliban, who thought that those who resorted to violence for reasons other than ideological should be engaged.
Khurram Dastgir Khan, the vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said that his party rejected the talks with TTP at this stage because there was no clarity about the process and the group with which talks were being held.
“Pakistani state’s negotiation with and mainstreaming of extremist religious groups have both failed catastrophically in the recent past. There is, therefore; neither cause nor justification for Imran Khan regime’s unilateral offer of amnesty to an organisation that has murdered tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians as well as soldiers,” he underscored.
Khan said that government’s offer of amnesty to the TTP was a blunder of appeasement, and “taken condemnably” without consulting parliament. The PML-N, he added, demanded that the government should brief parliament forthwith with facts as well as its overall strategy.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Secretary General Senator Farhatullah Babar also called on the state to clarify its position with regards to the dialogue with the terrorist group. “Before we get into talks with the militants, we have to set our strategic interests and goals,” he said.
Babar feared that Pakistan’s support for Afghan Taliban was helping the local militant groups psychologically. “If we are supporting Afghan Taliban, we are indirectly supporting the TTP because they are one and the same.”
The PPP leader asked the government to keep an eye on the great game in Afghanistan, while making such moves. Regarding the government’s amnesty offer for TTP militants, he said, concessions should not be extended unilaterally.
Senator Faisal Subzwari of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said that poor progress on the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism and absence of a narrative for countering militants brought the country to a situation it was confronted with now.
Awami National Party (ANP) Information Secretary Samar Bilour questioned the talks at a time when the wounds inflicted by the TTP were still fresh. She regretted that parliament was bypassed on the matter.
Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) Deputy Secretary General Nasir Shirazi said that the government, before going into talks, should ascertain that the TTP groups that it is talking to had shunned violence and were committed to pursuing peace. He also called for taking the heirs of martyrs on board on the talks.
IPI Executive Director Prof Sajjad Bokhari said that a key challenge facing the government, political parties, civil society and other stakeholders was figuring out how to disarm and demobilise the TTP without according it legitimacy.
While the state and its organs, he said, could forgive and forget violence inflicted by them, the heirs of victims might find it difficult to do so. “Is a new precedent being set in Pakistan that from now on any armed group which had targeted unarmed civilians could be brought into political mainstream through talks if it renounces violence,” he questioned.
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