Direct talks: Consensus reached on venue, finally

Maulana Sami says face-to-face meeting will take place in ‘two to three days’.


Tahir Khan/irfan Ghauri March 23, 2014
Samiul Haq. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD:


Government negotiators and Taliban intermediaries claimed to have broken the deadlock over the venue of a proposed face-to-face meeting with members of the Taliban Political Shura. The move will clear the way for phase-II of the government peace initiative which has been described as ‘decisive’.


Though the two sides agreed on the venue of direct talks, they refused to share its name with the media.

“We have reached a consensus over the venue which will be a peace zone. However, we cannot disclose the location due to security concerns,” Maulana Samiul Haq, the chief Taliban intermediary, told reporters following a meeting of the Taliban committee with government negotiators.

It was the first formal interaction between the two sides after the government reconfigured its negotiating team for the ‘decisive phase’ of the peace initiative.

The previous committee – comprising Irfan Siddiqui, Major (retd) Aaamir, Rahimullah Yousafzai and Rustam Shah Mohmand – was dissolved after it successfully prepared the ground for the next phase of talks.

After Saturday’s meeting at the Punjab House, negotiators from the two sides were tight-lipped about the ‘consensus venue’. But a guessing game has already started. Media reports said it could be Frontier Region Bannu or Mirali town of North Waziristan Agency.

In the run-up to the meeting, the two sides were deadlocked on the possible venue for direct talks. The government was insisting on FR Bannu, while the TTP wanted the face-to-face talks to take place in the Shaktu area of South Waziristan Agency, according to sources.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who chaired Saturday’s session, is said to have played a key role in evolving consensus between the two sides.

Maulana Samiul Haq said the consensus was reached after both sides showed flexibility. “It was a big achievement in our two-hour talks with the government committee. I am confident that the direct talks, which are likely within the next two or three days, will also produce good results,” he told The Express Tribune by the phone.

He said the Taliban intermediaries would also attend the direct talks at the request of the TTP. “The Taliban will have direct talks in our presence,” he added.

The coordinator of the Taliban committee, Maulana Yousaf, also described Saturday’s meeting as an ‘important breakthrough’. “The nation will soon hear good news,” he told the media.

The meeting was attended by all Taliban intermediaries – Maulana Samiul Haq, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim and Maulana Yousaf Shah – and members of the reconfigured government team, including Habibullah Khattak, Fawad Hassan Fawad, Rustam Shah Mohmand and Arbab Arif.

The interior minister had hinted during a press conference on Friday that the Taliban would extend a one-month ceasefire they had announced on March 1. At the same time, he had warned that the government would take action against those militant groups who were conspiring to sabotage the peace process.

Sources told The Express Tribune that the government negotiators have sought help from the TTP against a little-known militant group, Ahrarul Hind, which has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks since the declaration of ceasefire by the TTP.

In a related development media reports suggested that the TTP could soon release Professor Ajmal, the vice chancellor or Peshawar University, as a goodwill gesture.  Prof Ajmal was kidnapped by militants in September 2010.

In the face-to-face meeting, the two sides are likely to discuss ceasefire extension, prisoners’ exchange, and possible drawdown of security forces from tribal areas, one of the Taliban intermediaries told The Express Tribune.

Taliban endorse their intermediaries’ decision 

Meanwhile, the Taliban threw their weight behind the decisions taken at Saturday’s meeting. A Taliban leader said that four to five members of the Taliban Political Council will take part in the face-to-face meeting with the government negotiators. The Taliban leader spoke to The Express Tribune by phone on condition of anonymity.

He declined to disclose the names of the Shura members who will attend the meeting.  The TTP has also ‘chalked out a strategy and devised an agenda’ for the direct talks, he said but refused to share details.

He also said that the Taliban leadership has decided to avoid media interaction during the talks.

“A media outlet had distorted the remarks of the Taliban spokesman and created a lot of misunderstanding about the talks. Now, we are very cautious while interacting with the media. If needed, we will prefer to issue statements,” the Taliban leader said.

Asked about the decisions taken at Saturday’s meeting, he said, “We support the decision [on the venue of talks] as it was taken with our consent. It was an important decision and, of course, our opinion was included in the decision.”

The Taliban leader confirmed that the TTP leadership had opposed direct meeting at a location proposed by the government and had insisted that it should take place at a secure place like South Waziristan, Orakzai and Bajaur tribal regions.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2014.

COMMENTS (1)

Azzythehillbilly | 7 years ago | Reply We will regret having talked to these criminals. I do not understand why this nation is so feeble minded.
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