ISLAMABAD: Talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have made some headway after the group agreed to cease attacks during the nascent dialogue process, a senior official familiar with the matter revealed on Sunday.
“Yes, I can confirm that the TTP has agreed to a ceasefire,” the official told The Express Tribune. He requested not to be named in the report as he was not authorised to speak to the media on the matter.
Though no formal confirmation came from the Taliban side, the official claimed that the ‘breakthrough’ was achieved during two-day talks between the Taliban political Shura and their intermediaries at an undisclosed location.
One of the proposals put forward by a four-member government negotiating committee was an immediate ceasefire from both sides. “The government will reciprocate if the TTP ceases its activities in the country,” he added. The government negotiators are of the view that the peace process cannot move forward without a truce.
One of the Taliban intermediaries also confirmed that cessation of hostilities from both sides would be a major confidence-building measure.
A member of the government committee, however, cautioned that the issue needed to be handled carefully. “The [ceasefire] issue is delicate as there are groups and elements which may attempt to spoil the dialogue process,” he told The Express Tribune requesting anonymity.
He added that ensuring ceasefire from both sides would determine the future of the dialogue process.
Two members of the TTP intermediary committee — Jamaat-e-Islami’s Prof. Mohammad Ibrahim and Maulana Yousaf Shah, who is representing JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq – reached Miramshah on Saturday from where they left for an undisclosed location for the first formal contact with the Taliban political Shura.
A TTP leader clarified that the talks were not held in North Waziristan as part of an understanding with the Taliban and that the intermediaries had to travel from Miramshah for nearly five to six hours to a location in South Waziristan.
On Sunday, sources told The Express Tribune that the Taliban intermediaries have left for Islamabad. Later it transpired that they might have to stay at the local political agent’s residence in Mirmashah overnight as the helicopter could not fly in the dark.
Their departure was delayed which prompted Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to call up Maulana Sami to enquire about the reasons. “They [intermediaries and Taliban Shura members] had to change the [talks] venue several times as drones were hovering overhead,” Maulana Sami told Nisar, according to an interior ministry statement.
In response, Chaudhry Nisar said, “If the dialogue is sabotaged from outside, it would be considered as an act against the state.” Both sides expressed satisfaction over the progress made so far in the dialogue process, the statement added.
The Taliban leader, however, attributed the delay to the ‘complexity of the issues’ involved. “Both sides were discussing very delicate and complex issues. This also shows the Taliban’s seriousness to have detailed consultation with their intermediaries,” he told The Express Tribune by phone from North Waziristan.
“Since our intermediaries will have more direct talks with the government’s committee, our political Shura members wanted to discuss all matters threadbare,” he added.
Media reports claimed that the TTP has spelled out a 15-point charter of demands to their intermediaries. The Taliban leader did not confirm the reports. “I will not officially confirm whatever is being reported in the media, including the demands,” he said. “Some of our demands could be similar to what has been reported.”
TTP central spokesman Shahidullah Shahid refused to offer formal comment on the talks. Shahid, who was also part of the consultation, said that he would speak to the media on the issue on Monday.
He, however, did not confirm media reports about the talks, including the reported conditions. “These are mere speculations,” Shahid said when asked if the Taliban political Shura has set out 15 conditions.
The government committee’s coordinator, Irfan Siddiqui, said the Taliban intermediaries have not contacted them so far. “We are waiting for a formal reaction from the Taliban on the framework we have laid down for talks: that they should remain within the parameters of the constitution,” he told The Express Tribune.
He added that the two sides would meet up as soon as the Taliban intermediaries got back and had their discussion completed. “We are ready to meet them whenever they want,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2014.