In the back seat: Army balks at joining govt peace committee

Officials say military will assist, but wants civilian authorities to take lead.


Kamran Yousaf March 07, 2014
Army chief Gen Raheel Shareef chairing the 170th Corps Commanders meeting at the General Headquarters on Friday. PHOTO: ISPR

ISLAMABAD:


The army will not become part of the new government peace committee, which is set to be formed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold direct talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), according to officials.


“In a democratic dispensation, civilian authorities should take the lead,” said a top security official following the crucial corps commanders’ meeting at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Friday.

The meeting chaired by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif was held against the backdrop of reports that the government is in the process of forming a new committee for talks with TTP and its affiliates. The inclusion of the army in the fragile peace process was proposed by both the government and Taliban peace committees during their meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday.

According to the military’s media wing, the corps commanders’ conference held at the General Headquarters was part of ‘routine monthly’ meetings. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in its statement said the forum dwelt at length on several professional matters. The participants also undertook a comprehensive review of prevalent internal and external security situation of the country, it added.

The security official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the media, told The Express Tribune that the army chief consulted his top commanders on whether to become a direct part of the government’s ongoing peace process with TTP.

The official said top commanders arrived at a conclusion that there was no need for the army to hold face-to-face talks with TTP or their representatives. He maintained that the army leadership would be “available for assistance and consultations with the government” but civilian authorities should take charge as far as the talks are concerned.

The official said the prime minister had not asked the army to nominate its representative for the proposed committee. The army’s reluctance to join the proposed committee is attributed to the likely fallout from such an exercise.

Already, Opposition Leader Khursheed Shah had cautioned against the move, insisting that the army would be blamed if talks failed. However, the government and Taliban peace committees were of the view that the army’s participation would be crucial for ‘tangible’ progress. This notion has its roots in Pakistan’s history as matters of security have always been dealt with by the military, with practically no say of the civilian government. Many experts believe that the country’s security establishment still holds the key for any future course of action.

“There is a general impression that the army is not onboard with the talks,” said a government committee member, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue. “In order to dispel that impression, we have suggested that the prime minister include the army in the process,” the member added.However, he said the army probably was still assessing the situation.

Another military official said the top commanders voiced concern over the recent terrorist attacks at Islamabad’s district courts and Khyber Agency. The official disclosed that the corps commanders were briefed about the ‘successes’ achieved in the surgical strikes against the militant strongholds in the tribal areas.

He said the army was ready to hit back if any terrorist attacks take place in future.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2014.

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