ISLAMABAD, Oct 26: In a sign that the government is finally getting down to opening talks with the Taliban, it has decided to take all political parties on board, with a view to making their leaders part of the dialogue process.
The decision was taken during a meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan at the Prime Minister’s House on Saturday.
What apparently prompted the prime minister to issue the directive was a letter written to him by the Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khurshid Ahmad Shah, asking the government to immediately inform the nation and parliament about progress on the direction unanimously set by an all-party conference on Sept 9.
The opposition leader said the APC had unanimously passed a resolution authorising the government to initiate dialogue with Taliban or to take steps to eliminate extremism and terrorism. “Forty-five days have passed and the government as of today has failed to take parliament and the nation into confidence on steps taken in either of the two directions specified by the resolution,” the letter said.
The prime minister said all parties should be consulted on the matter. “All political parties had mandated the government through the APC to hold dialogue with the Taliban and representatives of different parties should feel to be part of the process.” He said peace and security were pivotal to economic development and prosperity.
Before the APC passed the resolution, briefings had been arranged for political leaders by the prime minister, the interior minister, chief of the army staff and the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on the internal and regional security situation.
Through the resolution the leadership had authorised the federal government to initiate dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith and for this purpose authorised it to take steps as it might deem fit, including development of an appropriate mechanism and identification of interlocutors. “Needless to say, the process should be as inclusive as possible, with full participation of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other stakeholders. The guiding principles should include respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs and the creation of an environment which brings peace and tranquillity to the region,” the resolution said.
A day after passage of the resolution, the interior minister said at a press briefing that a framework for talks with Taliban was ready. But even today, not only the general public but also the leaders and the parliament have no idea about the status of the talks.
Some believe that informal contacts have been established by the government with Taliban, but formal talks have yet to begin.
Leaders including PTI chief Imran Khan and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman have been criticising the government for the delay in initiation of the dialogue.
It was only on Friday that Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz clearly indicated that talks with militants might begin in the next few days.
Letter about ordinance
In a related development, Prime Minister Sharif sent letters on Saturday to heads of political parties, seeking their support for conversion of the controversial Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, 2013, into an act of parliament.
The letter said the ordinance had been promulgated with a view to giving a strong message to the organised criminals and anti-state elements about the will and determination of the state and the people to face and eliminate all challenges to the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
“As you are aware, we have been elected to parliament by the people of Pakistan with the hope to end the extended regime of terror unleashed since the adoption of post-9/11 policies,” it said.
The prime minister said decades of dictatorial regime and mis-governance had resulted in complete erosion of state writ and authority. He lamented that apart from the remote areas, safe havens in urban centres and towns had also become a cause of serious concern.
He said coupled with the failure of law-enforcement agencies responsible for internal security and prosecution of crime, due to a variety of reasons, the country was facing a situation where the life and property of the people was in grave danger.
On the other hand, organised mafias were roaming free due to the legal vacuum created by constant tampering with various legislations over a long period, he said.
“Resultantly the socio-economic fabric of our society as well as the age-old value system binding this nation is in danger of disintegration.
“It is in this context and with a view to the potential unfolding events in post-2014 Afghanistan that the federal government considers its imperative to put in place a legal mechanism for intervention to protect the rights and liberty of the common man as well as the sovereignty and integrity of the state of Pakistan.”
He said a team of legal and security experts had worked diligently to ensure that the new law was in complete consonance with the constitution.
The PPP has rejected the ordinance giving extraordinary powers to the law-enforcing agencies to curb terrorism, describing it as an assault on the fundamental rights of the citizens.
The law has also been challenged in the Islamabad High Court.
The ordinance, on the face of it, is aimed at strengthening the hands of law-enforcement agencies against terrorists and ensuring speedy disposal of cases by the courts, but contains a number of provisions which many fear can potentially be misused.
The law provides for shoot-at-sight powers to the law-enforcement personnel on mere suspicion of a terrorist activity. Anyone found guilty of resisting enforcement of any law or legal process will have to spend 10 years behind the bars. The law provides for setting up of special courts and safe houses to detain hardened criminals.
Under the ordinance, law-enforcement personnel will be able to enter and search any premises without warrants and the arrested suspects will not be entitled to bail.