It had only been hinted at in the resolution adopted by the all parties conference (APC) on Thursday, but Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Sunday confirmed that his administration is ready to start talks with all factions of the Taliban, including the Haqqani network.
“If negotiations fail to work, the government will launch military operations in the tribal areas,” he told a small group of journalists at his private residence in Lahore.
The prime minister did not specifically refer to North Waziristan – the tribal region where the Haqqanis are believed to be based – when talking about military campaigns.
He said that the approach currently being tried was similar to that which was tried in Swat, where the government offered a peace deal to the militants in 2009, but launched a military operation after the Taliban refused to honour their end of the bargain.
For the first time, the prime minister provided details about how the talks would be conducted. “We will not ask them to disarm before the negotiations since this is against the tribal culture. However, the political agents [government administrators in the tribal regions] will ask them to decommission themselves,” he said.
Prime Minister Gilani confirmed that the talks would be monitored by a parliamentary committee, to ensure transparency and civilian oversight of the process.
The nation’s chief executive took pride in the unanimity that the government was able to put on display at the APC, where nearly 60 political parties, as well as the civilian and military leadership of the country agreed to a resolution, albeit one that was phrased vaguely and did not mention the United States by name.
Nevertheless, the prime minister said the show of unity had dissuaded the United States from its strident criticism of Pakistan and even claimed that the US had agreed to forswear future unilateral action in Pakistan.
“There will be no [foreign] boots on Pakistani soil,” said Gilani. “Pakistan has gotten assurances from the United States that there will not be any unilateral action like the May 2 Abbottabad incident.”
Several prominent politicians in the United States, including Senator Lindsey Graham, had called for unilateral action against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan after then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen testified before the US Congress that the network was likely involved in the attack on the US Embassy in Kabul.
Mullen had called the Haqqani network, a “veritable arm of the ISI,” a charge that the prime minister urged the media to essentially ignore.
Since those allegations, both sides have been trying to calm tensions, and the prime minister was keen to highlight Pakistan’s desire to play a peacemaking role in Afghanistan.
“Our common enemy, which does not see us united, might be involved in [former Afghan president Burhanuddin] Rabbani’s assassination and I categorically informed [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai that we should not play into the hands of such elements,” said Gilani, referring to what is believed to be a Taliban-backed assassination of the former Afghan president who had been charged with a peacemaking role in Afghanistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2011.