The Taliban intermediaries on Saturday made their first contact with the government since the peace talks entered a decisive round, and discussed crunch questions that need to be settled before a direct meeting can be held between the two parties.
According to sources, first amongst the agenda of the direct meeting will be an extension in the ceasefire deadline by the TTP, given that it has taken the government some time to form a new committee. Both sides are also expected to exchange lists of non-combatant prisoners and hostages kept for ransom. Thirdly, the government will seek clarity on the stance and relationship of the TTP with some splinter groups that have continued to launch attacks during the ceasefire.
But before all that is talked about, an initial issue which needs to be settled is where the government’s committee will be able to directly meet the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Shura – a matter that has turned into a ‘back-and-forth’ between the two sides.
Initially, the TTP rejected the spot the government had chosen – the office of the political agent in South Waziristan. Instead, the group suggested two other spots in South Waziristan – Laddah and Makeen.
On Saturday, the government conveyed through the TTP committee that the proposed venues are not agreeable to them. Instead, it proposed that the two sides meet in Bannu. Although the TTP has not responded yet, sources privy to the peace process say this venue may be acceptable.
Other sources, however, said Miramshah and Shaktai in South Wazirstan Agency are the venues which came under consideration.
The discussion took place when the Taliban committee headed by JUI-S chief Maulana Samiul Haq met Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. According to a statement issued by the interior ministry, the committee briefed the interior minister about its meeting with the TTP leadership.
After the meeting, Samiul Haq said, “Both the parties are interested in the continuation of talks and we are hopeful about keeping this process going.” He also urged the government to move forward on an equal footing with the Taliban during talks.
Professor Muhammad Ibrahim from the Jamaat-e-Islami said that since the government has an agreement with Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan, they will not be having a meeting there. He added that both the government and the Taliban were pursing peace talks with sincerity.
“I guess we will have to go to a place nominated by the Taliban,” a member of the government committee told The Express Tribune. “There is a trust deficit and we will have build trust.”
“We will also engage tribal elders for that matter,” he said, adding that a committee of tribal elders would be constituted.
“Once the level of confidence is attained and the government assures it will not arrest [any Taliban members], the TTP might come to a place of the government’s choice,” the committee member said.
Responding to a question about the job of new committee, he said, “We have to develop convergence between the government and the Taliban.”
“The decisions, as always, are to be taken by the government,” he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 16th, 2014.