After the ceasefire announcement by the Taliban and suspension of surgical air strikes by the government, peace negotiators from two sides met for the first time in Akora Khattak on Wednesday in what was described as the start of the ‘second and decisive phase of the peace process’.
The meeting between the government’s four-member negotiating team and Taliban intermediary committee at Darul Uloom Haqqania lasted for three-and-a-half hours. In a joint declaration, they disclosed that the government negotiators have floated some suggestions – including the possible expansion of or reconfiguration of the peace committees – to make the ‘new phase of talks’ more effective and decisive.
The government’s committee said they have also shared fresh proposals with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for making the dialogue process meaningful. “[But] we will have to deal with the situation with patience,” said Irfan Siddiqui, the coordinator of the government committee.
“We have entered a new phase, where we have to take some important decisions,” Siddiqui told reporters. The Taliban intermediaries have requested a meeting with the premier and the government negotiators would facilitate in arranging the meeting, he added.
The Taliban’s chief intermediary Maulana Samiul Haq as well as his colleagues agreed with the government’s suggestions but they, too, insisted that the ‘new phase of talks’ must have a result-oriented end.
It was also disclosed that the Taliban intermediaries would meet with the prime minister to jointly discuss a plan for the second phase of talks.
Officials disclosed that at Wednesday’s meeting, the two sides also pored over the idea of dissolving the existing committees and the formation of new teams to carry forward the peace process.
Maulana Samiul Haq expressed his satisfaction over the process and termed the ceasefire announcement by both sides a ‘great achievement’. “The committees opened the door for dialogue and now it is their responsibility to take it to a logical conclusion.”
On the little-known militant group, Ahrarul Hind, which claimed responsibility for the Islamabad courts complex attack, Maulana Sami was quoted by the BBC as saying, “We have never heard of this group. I spoke to the Taliban this morning and asked them to find out. The TTP is earnestly trying to uncover the group’s whereabouts and it has found its address via Facebook.”
He stressed upon the committee members not to blame each other as ‘hidden enemies’ were trying to exploit the situation. Our neighbouring countries, including India and Afghanistan, do not want a prosperous and strong Pakistan and hence, they are trying to fail the peace process.
Speaking exclusively with The Express Tribune, one of the Taliban intermediaries, Prof. Muhammad Ibrahim said that he favoured the idea of direct talks between the Taliban and the government. “We are trying for the government and the Taliban to sit face-to-face and directly listen to each other,” he said. “Practical problems will be resolved only if and when they talk directly.”
Asked if he was satisfied with the talks, he said, “It will be difficult to express satisfaction right now. There are many issues that need to be resolved. But we have accepted the role of mediators and we will try to resolve all problems.” He sanguinely added, “But I am confident we will steer out of these problems.”
The Taliban expressed satisfaction at the revival of the stalled dialogue process and claimed they were the first to take the ‘very hard decision’ of declaring a unilateral ceasefire.
“We consider the end of deadlock positive progress,” a Taliban leader told The Express Tribune.
Asked whether the negotiation committees should be dissolved or expanded, he said the Taliban leadership has not yet thought about it. “We are not in a hurry and we trust our intermediaries. We repose complete confidence in them and they will continue their work.”
Asked about the possible perpetrators of the recent attacks, he said, “Certain elements do not want the process to move forward.”
He said the Taliban leadership have unanimously decided to invite the government negotiators to meet members of the Taliban Political Shura. “We will be happy to host the government negotiators but that does not mean we want direct talks at this stage. We will show patience.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 6th, 2014.