ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Friday that the government has made a fresh move to revive the stalled peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and a ‘positive development’ is expected in the next few days.
“Safe access to polio vaccinators in Waziristan will be on top of the agenda during the next round of direct talks with the TTP,” he told a news conference in Islamabad.
While there has been a gap of around six weeks in the dialogue process, some officials have remained in contact with the Taliban behind the scenes during that time, he said. “The government wants to have formal talks and is striving to ensure that the next round is meaningful and result-oriented.”
The minister said all fundamental issues should be discussed during the next round of talks and urged the other side to come forth with their demands. He said the government wanted the Taliban to release all non-combatant prisoners, including foreigners, in their custody.
According to the minister, the TTP, not the government, was supposed to decide the time and venue for the next round of talks – but that didn’t happen.
On the military option, he said US Deputy Secretary of State William J Burns, on his recent visit, didn’t try to convince Pakistani officials to launch an operation in Waziristan. He assured journalists that Pakistan’s policy wouldn’t be framed on the advice of an external power.
Nisar denied reports of a drone attack inside Pakistan’s territory. Wednesday’s drone strike took place in Afghanistan, albeit close to the Pakistan border, he added. “Neither the target was on this side, nor did it cause any damage inside Pakistan.”
Afghan officials earlier said the strike was carried out by coalition fighter jets and not a drone.
Altaf Hussain’s passport
Talking about the controversy regarding MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s applications for a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), Nisar said the government had no objections if the MQM chief wanted to obtain NICOP or a Pakistani passport after over two decades.
He said a NADRA officer was sent to the MQM chief’s London residence to get his fingerprints and photograph by then Pakistani high commissioner, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, on his last day in office in violation of procedures. “The process requires a team of at least four people to move for such a facility to be provided, even inside Pakistan,” the minister said.
Nisar also said that the form given to Altaf by the NADRA officer was never returned to the authority for uploading data. He added that the NADRA system automatically deletes data if a form is not returned within a month’s time.
The minister also said that NADRA’s facilities abroad are not meant to be provided to individuals at their doorsteps and are only meant for community centres. He added that his ministry was ready to waive this restriction and send a NADRA team to Altaf’s London residence again, but left no hint as to whether this facility would be provided to the MQM chief for his passport application. On the other hand, Nisar accused Altaf of being ‘hell-bent’ on trampling the law while making statements about its supremacy. He said the government had told both Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad and MQM MNA Haider Abbas Rizvi that while it wanted to resolve the matter, it could not be done amid threats from the party.
The interior minister said the operation to purge Karachi of criminal elements will continue till normalcy returned to the city. He said the ‘meaningful phase’ of the operation was set to start and a schedule of priorities in this regard would be finalised in consultation with the Sindh government over the next few days.
Answering a question, Nisar brushed aside impressions that the number of Taliban in Karachi had increased. “Militant pockets exist in the city, but there is no serious threat,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2014.