ISLAMABAD: In an apparent hardening of the government’s position, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told the National Assembly on Thursday that a move for a peace dialogue with the Taliban rebels had “come to a standstill” with a “serious blow” from Sunday’s attack that killed an army general and that the military and opposition would be consulted in reviewing the process.
In his first public comments on the Taliban-claimed roadside blast of an improvised explosive device in Upper Dir, the minister advised political parties to avoid making statements that could compromise the consensus reached at the Sept 9 all-party conference, which the government to “initiate dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith”.
And in what appeared as a snub to a suggestion by Imran Khan, chairman of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, that the government and Taliban form negotiating teams and announce a ceasefire, he said: “Nobody should advise us for a ceasefire.”
“This incident has dealt a serious blow (to the peace move),” Chaudhry Nisar said about the Sept 15 attack on an army convoy, which killed Maj Gen Sanaullah Khan Niazi, Lt Col Tauseef Ahmed and Lance Naik Irfanullah and wounded two soldiers while they were returning to their base after visiting a post near the Afghan border.
“We have come to a standstill,” the minister said in the first clear statement from the government, indicating that the process stood frozen after the Taliban not only claimed responsibility for the Upper Dir bombing as well as three other attacks on security forces on the same day but also put forth hard demands such as release of Taliban militants from the government custody, a general amnesty for Taliban fighters and return of troops to the barracks in Fata as preconditions for the proposed talks.
In recent days, the lower house had faced an embarrassing focus for maintaining a somewhat disquieting silence on the Taliban attacks and outbursts until a belated resolution it passed unanimously on Tuesday, condemning the Upper Dir attack and urging the government to “come out in full support of the armed forces in the fight against terrorism”. That resolution came a day after Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a strongly-worded statement, saying that “no one should have any misgiving that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms”.
The interior minister seemed seeking to allay concerns about a possible appeasement of militants blamed for an estimated more than 40,000 deaths of civilians and soldiers when he asked the house to “give us time” and assured it that that the government would consult both the opposition and military in taking “a stand that will be in consonance with the country’s independence, sovereignty, integrity and dignity”.
KARACHI CRACKDOWN: The interior minister spoke in detail earlier in his speech about the achievements of a recently launched anti-crime crackdown in Karachi, informing the house of about 1,400 “targeted operations” – 400 by the Rangers and about 1,000 by Sindh police – carried out in the past 15 days of the still unfinished first phase of the action, which he said would be followed by a “surge”, or a “raise in its ante” in the second phase, and then a “crucial” third phase.
Chaudhry Nisar said the operation showed both the federal government of his PML-N and the provincial government of the opposition PPP fulfilling their responsibilities and that “only 10 per cent work done so far” had brought down the of so-called “targeted killings” in Karachi to two to three a day from 16 to 18 a day before that.
Besides those arrested in Karachi, he said, many suspected criminals were fleeing from Karachi, with 250 of them going to far-away North Waziristan and some arrested in Lahore and Murree. “God-willing they will find no haven in whole of Pakistan,” he added.
IT WAS NO LUDO: Describing the Karachi operation as no easy “bite”, the minister said the government was following a strategy worked out in months of homework, whether it be Karachi violence or talks with Taliban. “We are not playing ludo…and we have reached this stage with homework.”
While warning anybody creating hurdles in this mission of being “exposed before the nation”, Chaudhry Nisar had some comforting words for the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which has complained of the Karachi operation being turned against it, that some latest evidence had shown a shadowy so-called “Muhajir Republican Army” group having links “somewhere else” and not with the MQM.
The group was mentioned in a government report submitted to the Supreme Court last month but a portion about it was later withdrawn for being, as the minister said on Thursday, “not substantive enough” to merit presentation to the apex court.
PTI PROTEST: Later in the day, a PTI lawmaker from Karachi, Dr Arif Alvi, protested against the interior minister’s remark that nobody should give ceasefire advice to the government and said the parties who attended the APC had given their views as advice and not a mandate claimed by the government.