The government on Sunday suspended air raids against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates, reciprocating the ceasefire announced by the TTP to pave the way for the resumption of the fragile peace process.
“Following the Taliban’s positive announcement on Saturday, the government has decided to suspend air strikes,” said a statement issued by the interior ministry. However, the statement made it clear that the government and the military “reserve the right to respond to violent attacks”.
The decision to halt surgical strikes was taken after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan consulted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif, officials told The Express Tribune.
The interior minister described the Taliban’s move to halt attacks as a ‘positive development.’ Since the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government took over in June last year, it did not carry out any military operation or other action without justification, he said.
“Whatever action the government took was in retaliation to violent attacks,” Nisar said, defending the surgical strikes carried out by the military following the slaying of 23 Frontier Corps troops by the TTP Mohmand chapter.
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, meanwhile, said the government would keep the option of talks with the Taliban open for the sake of peace in the country. He added that the government would consult all parties and stakeholders before taking any ‘hard measures’ against those who disturb the peace process.
The latest development comes against the backdrop of media speculation that the government and military were contemplating a ground offensive in North Waziristan Agency.
But now the government and the TTP are set to resume the stalled peace talks.
“I think that the possibility of resumption of peace talks has now increased. A ceasefire was the demand of the government and the negotiations committee,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a member of the government’s negotiating team.
“But the ceasefire should be effective. If attacks continue, then the conducive environment we are searching for won’t materialise,” he added.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, another member of the government committee, was quoted by a news channel as saying that both sides must exchange prisoners as part of confidence-building measures. A representative of the Taliban committee, meanwhile, told The Express Tribune that they were expecting a meeting with the government negotiators on Tuesday.
“The surgical strikes have really put immense pressure on the TTP,” said a security official adding that the military’s strategy compelled militants to announce unconditional ceasefire.
However, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, cautioned that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the prospects of peace deal.
“The TTP announcement may be a ploy to buy more time and avoid a possible operation,” he said.
Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah also voiced his scepticism about TTP’s ceasefire.
The Taliban on Saturday announced a one-month ceasefire in a bid to resume peace talks, which were suspended by the government following the death of FC men in TTP’s custody.
Govt urged to avoid use of force
A member of the Taliban intermediary committee, Prof Muhammad Ibrahim Khan, has said that the unilateral ceasefire by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) shows that the group was serious in pursuing peace talks.
“The announcement of a ceasefire by the TTP is a positive step. The government should take this move seriously,” said Prof Ibrahim, who is also the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Khyber-Pakhtunkwa chapter, while addressing a ceremony at Kernal Sher Khan Kallay, Swabi, on Sunday. “The ceasefire could be fruitful only if both sides react positively,” he added.
Referring to ongoing surgical strikes, Prof Ibrahim said that the government should avoid the use of force as this could stoke further violence in the country.
He called upon the government to implement the decisions taken at an all-party conference in September, last year, for the restoration of peace in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2014.
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