Pakistani policemen escort a suspected militant of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. – File Photo by AFP
LADHA, Sept 11: Security forces and the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) swapped prisoners in South Waziristan on Wednesday in what has been described as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace negotiations.
According to sources, six Taliban prisoners were handed over in exchange for two security personnel in Shoyee Khel area of Shawal subdistrict.
However, the ISPR denied the report. An official said no swap of prisoners had taken place and the report in this regard was just a rumour.
The sources identified the released militants as Ismail of Momi Karama, Suhail of Karama, Pirzada of Barond Moli Khan Srai and Ayaz and Farmanullah of Delai area. They said three of the Taliban prisoners were released from the administration’s lock-up in Wana and the other three from army custody in Bannu.
The sources claimed that the freed militants were received with celebratory firing by Taliban in Mirali.They said three security personnel had been kidnapped from Balochistan last year and were in Taliban captivity. One of them was beheaded and his head was found near Rustam Bazaar in Wana. The two other personnel were handed over to scouts on Wednesday, the sources said.
Taliban sources said the exchange of prisoners had taken place as a goodwill gesture to pave the way for negotiations as proposed by a conference on terrorism held in Islamabad.
They said a meeting of the Taliban shura was under way in a tribal area to thoroughly discuss the government’s offer of talks. Important militant leaders from various parts of the country were attending.
According to our correspondent in Landi Kotal, a pro-government armed group from Tirah valley of Khyber Agency, Ansarul Islam,
welcomed the government decision to hold dialogue with the Taliban and expressed its readiness to act as a mediator.
Speaking to reporters by phone, the group’s naib ameer Maulana Ezzatullah said talks were the only way to resolve all thorny and complex issues and lasting peace could be restored in Fata only through peaceful negotiations.
He said his group would not become a party to the negotiations but would rather play the role of a mediator.
Taliban drove out AI supporters from most parts of Tirah valley in March after a fierce gunbattle which left scores of supporters of both sides dead. The Taliban occupation of Tirah also compelled Ezzatullah and thousands of local residents to take refuge in Orakzai, Kurram, Kohat and Peshawar.
Maulana Ezzatullah said his group remained intact despite its expulsion from Tirah and was closely collaborating with government agencies to help relocate the displaced families to their homes.
He said peace in Tirah could be restored only with the help of local tribes and the government should respect the tribal traditions.
He said the tribes in Tirah would never agree to a settlement imposed from ‘above’ and demanded that local people should be fully empowered to take independent decisions regarding their future.