After days of uncertainty, the first face-to-face meeting between government negotiators and Taliban leaders is expected to take place on Tuesday (today) at an undisclosed location, officials said on Monday.
The much-anticipated direct talks would be attended by all four members of the government’s reconfigured negotiating committee, Taliban intermediaries and members of the Taliban Political Shura.
The venue has been kept secret although unconfirmed reports indicate it could be somewhere in the tribal areas.
Ahead of Tuesday’s session, the government on Monday finalised its strategy at a meeting attended by the government negotiators, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and ISI Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam.
The participants held consultations on the agenda for Taliban talks, said an official statement issued by the interior ministry without giving details.
Taliban intermediary Prof Ibrahim Khan said that an ISI representative might take part in the crucial talks, although there was no official confirmation of this.
Official sources said the ISI chief has informed the meeting that his agency was not holding in detention any women and children linked to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The TTP has claimed that at least 300 women and children are in the custody of security agencies.
Prof Ibrahim said the TTP has been asked to provide evidence of security forces holding Taliban ‘non-combatants’ in captivity. He clarified that the release of ‘non-combatants’ was not a precondition from the Taliban for talks.
Tuesday’s meeting, according to sources, would focus on a series of confidence-building measures. The government will push the TTP to extend the one-month ceasefire announced by the group on March 1.
Other issues that are expected to figure during negotiations include exchange of prisoner lists. While the TTP is seeking the release of its non-combatants allegedly in the security agencies’ custody, the government is learnt to have also prepared a list of civilians who are being held hostage by the TTP.
Some media reports claimed that the government would seek the release of civilians from TTP custody including former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Haider Gilani and Shahbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.
Meanwhile Aamna Taseer, the mother of Shahbaz Taseer, said that all ‘non-combatants’, anyone who is not part of the war, from both sides should be released as a goodwill gesture.
“It’s been a very long time for everyone involved, for us, for the Gilanis and other families. Even if the families of the Taliban are detained should be released as well,” she told The Express Tribune.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2014.