In an apparent paradigm shift in the country’s security policy, the nation’s top political and military leadership has decided to hold peace talks with all militant groups, apparently including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
The decision to initiate a dialogue process with ‘all stakeholders’ was approved on Thursday at an All Parties Conference, a nine-hour-long marathon meeting which had been convened by the government to demonstrate national unity in the face of what were perceived as threats by the United States (which has since sought to soften its criticism of Pakistan).
“Pakistan must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this be put in place,” said a 13-point joint declaration issued after the meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
While the statement did not clarify, some of the participants of the meeting told The Express Tribune that the phrase “own people” was a reference to militant groups, including the TTP.
“Personally, I am against talking to terrorists but had to endorse it for the sake of national unity,” said Sahibzada Fazl Karim, the head of the Sunni Ittehad Council, an umbrella organisation for Pakistan’s Barelvi groups which are opposed to the Taliban, who are from the rival Deobandi sect.
A Pakhtun nationalist leader said the proposed dialogue would not be spearheaded either by the government or the military alone but a ‘national institutionalised mechanism’ might be developed for that. He said the new mechanism might be on the pattern of the High Peace Council Afghan President Hamid Karzai set up last year to reach out the insurgents in his country.
The wording of the joint declaration – which appears to inadvertently quote John Lennon of the Beatles – also appeared to endorse the assertion by the two politicians.
“The All Party Conference recognised that there has to be a new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation. ‘Give peace a chance’ must be the guiding central principle henceforth,” read one of the 13 points in the statement, which was backed by the leaders of close to 60 political parties, the government and the military’s top brass.
The conference had also decided to form a parliamentary committee to oversee the implementation on the declaration.
They who shall not be named
Surprisingly, the carefully and generically-drafted declaration did not mention the United States by name even once.
“The APC rejected the recent assertions and baseless allegations made against Pakistan. Such assertions are without substance and derogatory to a partnership approach,” said the declaration without mentioning the source of accusations.
But an inaugural speech by Prime Minister Gilani forcefully rebuffed latest allegations by top US military officials of any links between the Haqqani network and Pakistan’s security establishment.
“The blame game is counter-productive. This should end and Pakistan’s red lines and national interests must be respected,” said the prime minister.
But he immediately said all issues should be discussed and resolved through talks. “Any perceptional differences and issues should best be resolved through a constructive dialogue,” Gilani added.
According to participants, ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha played down the possibility of any direct US military campaign inside the country’s tribal belt, indicating at gradual improvement in ties in past couple of days.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2011.