The federal government will take the country’s main political and religious parties into confidence regarding the progress achieved in the ongoing peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an official said on Thursday.
The decision was taken after the five-member government committee, comprising current and former civil servants, briefed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar about their first face-to-face meeting with members of the TTP Political Shura.
The government committee travelled to the tribal areas on Wednesday and held direct talks with the militant outfit as part of the government’s initiative to strike a peace deal.
There was no official release issued by the interior ministry about the committee’s meeting with Nisar.
An official privy to the development told The Express Tribune that committee members briefed the minister about the progress and demands put forward by the TTP for furthering the peace process.
The TTP, according to Taliban chief intermediary Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, has demanded the release of their up to 400 ‘non-combatant’ prisoners allegedly in the security agencies’ custody.
However, Nisar informed the government committee that the security agencies were not holding any women and children.
The release of non-combatant prisoners is one of TTP’s major demands to extend the month-long ceasefire, which expires next week. Officials said the government had asked the TTP to provide concrete evidence about the custody of women and children.
A committee member, requesting anonymity, said the issue of non-combatants would decide the future of the fragile peace process. “If Taliban stick to their demand and the government remains adamant about not holding any non-combatants, this may lead to a serious deadlock,” he cautioned.
However, Taliban intermediaries are hopeful that the first direct talks between the government and TTP would lead to ‘positive results.’
Earlier in Nowshera, Maulana Samiul Haq claimed PM Nawaz Sharif had assured him of releasing the detained women and children. The TTP negotiators had handed over the list of non-combatant prisoners given by the Taliban to government and the agencies were now investigating, he said while addressing the Paigham-e-Aman wa Tahafuz Dini Madaris Conference.
But he added that the government and the Taliban agreed to take the peace process to its logical conclusion. Maulana Sami said they would meet the government committee today (Friday) to follow up on the talks.
Another member of the Taliban committee voiced his optimism. “We are confident that the ceasefire will be extended,” Professor Ibrahim Khan, who also travelled to the tribal areas for talks on Wednesday, told AFP. “Our efforts will be to ensure that there is a permanent ceasefire.”
Ibrahim said the two sides were trying to build confidence in one another and would meet for more talks in “the next few days”.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2014.