ISLAMABAD: Backchannel talks between the ruling PML-N and Taliban are under way to work out a peace formula and end violence which has claimed thousands of lives in the country since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in Oct 2001.
“Unofficial talks between the government side and Taliban are in progress,” Information Minister Pervez Rashid told Dawn on Friday. He said the government was exploring all options to restore lasting peace in the country and was in contact with Taliban at different levels.
He endorsed a statement made by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that a formula had been chalked out for holding formal talks with Taliban within a month. “Maulana Sahib is a responsible person and whatever he said is correct,” he said.
Earlier in the day, the JUI-F chief told reporters in Parliament House that a forum comprising authoritative and responsible people was being formed for holding talks with Taliban within a month.
The information minister did not say at what level talks had been initiated and with which group of militants. But, he said the government was ready to negotiate with any group of Taliban interested in holding talks.
“I cannot say with which group of Taliban we are holding talks because today we are talking with two groups and if another group wants to join we will welcome it too,” he said.
Mr Rashid said the government’s main objective was to restore peace and it would do everything possible to achieve that. “We have to rid the country of the menace of terrorism for which all options would be utilised.”
Asked if the government had taken opposition into confidence before going for negotiations with Taliban, he said the opposition was always consulted during formal and informal meetings and, particularly, in the Parliament House.
But, he said, there would be no opposition leader in the forum being formed for the talks which would be between the government and Taliban. “Therefore there is no need to include any leader of the opposition in the process.”
Earlier, the government had announced that it would hold an all-party conference to seek proposals for a formula under which talks could be initiated with Taliban. But the conference has not taken place for one reason or the other.
It may be mentioned that leaders of major opposition parties including the PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Awami National Party and the PML-Q have supported the decision to hold talks with militants.
When contacted, JUI-F spokesman Jan Achakzai said the government had established some contacts with Taliban. “Certain steps have been taken behind the curtain.”
He said the government had formulated a strategy which would be followed by the forum for the talks. “The strategy is being discussed by the government with allied parties,” he added.
Intelligence agencies, he said, would be taken into confidence during the peace process.
Meanwhile, a senior Taliban leader confirmed that initial contacts between the militants and the government had been made. He told the BBC Urdu Service that the talks encompassing a wide range of issues including prevention of sectarian violence and snapping of ties with Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had been held.