The government has virtually dismantled a panel of parliamentarians it formed last year to initiate peace talks with the home-grown Taliban, diminishing prospects of institutionalised dialogue with militants on a pattern being followed by Afghan authorities.
National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza constituted a parliamentary committee last October after the country’s top political and military leadership decided to hold negotiations with militant groups at an all-party security conference.
“All parties conference recognises that there has to be a new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation. Giving peace a chance must be the guiding central principle henceforth,” said one of the 12 points which was backed by around 60 political parties, the government and the military’s top brass, at that time.
The move was so hyped that some government leaders called it a paradigm shift in the country’s military-dominated security policy after seven years of anti-terrorism campaign in the tribal badlands.
Pakistani leaders borrowed the idea of parliamentary oversight of dialogue with the militants from the model of High Peace Council formed in 2010 by President Hamid Karzai to spearhead peace process with the Taliban.
The 70-member broad-based council of Afghan tribal and political leaders lost their head, ex-Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani in a suicide bombing last year which was blamed on the Taliban but they were still hopeful of making headway in the negotiations.
Pakistani political and military leaders are also encouraging the efforts made by the council and the mechanism under which it operates.
But back home in Pakistan they do not have the mechanism to negotiate, despite their claims of wanting to resolve the issue through dialogue.
The formation of the parliamentary panel appeared to be mere formality as the 12-member committee has not been able to hold a single meeting so far, leaving it to the military authorities to deal with Taliban.
Ironically, the government did not even bother a ceremonial move to choose a new chairperson after its former head, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was elected as the prime minister.
Before Ashraf, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman was elected the first chairperson of the committee but had to abandon the position after her appointment as the envoy.
Officials at the secretariat of the Speaker National Assembly told The Express Tribune that the committee has not been able to do anything so far except for holding a couple of meetings that too for the election of the chairperson.
A top leader who attended the conference last September said he believed the decision to hold peace talks with the Taliban was a mere announcement only to be at a strong bargaining end with the United States.
The announcement was made when the relationships between Islamabad and Washington were going through a sticky patch after the killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by American SEALs in a unilateral strike in Abbottabad.
The US was then pushing Pakistan to go against the Haqqani network—the group of deadliest Afghan militants allegedly hiding in North Waziristan tribal region.
“It now feels like all was a bluff,” said the political leader, who regretted that the recommendations of the all parties’ conference were never followed upon.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2012.