ISLAMABAD: Clouds of doubts surrounding the proposed peace talks between the government and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) further thickened on Tuesday, with each side accusing the other of not doing enough to make the process sustainable and result-oriented and raising questions over each other’s seriousness.
While the government side sought certain clarifications from TTP’s negotiating team, the latter appeared to be in doubt if the government really wanted to hold talks or was looking for an excuse to go ahead with a military operation in North Waziristan Agency.
“After the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) refused to join the TTP committee, naturally we are waiting for their replacement. Therefore, we decided at a meeting held earlier in the day to wait for new names before formally starting talks,” Rahimullah Yousufzai, a member of the government committee, told Dawn.
But after the TTP announced that its remaining three members would hold negotiations on its behalf, “I personally conveyed to the TTP committee’s contact person Maulana Mohammad Yousuf Shah that we are open for a meeting which will be scheduled any time over the next few days,” Mr Yousufzai added.
He said the government committee also had questions such as the status of a second nine-member committee comprising senior Taliban leaders who reportedly would oversee the process of talks held by Maulana Samiul Haq, the JUI-S chief who is leading the TTP negotiating team.
“What exactly will be the roles of the two different TTP committees?” And then there were other issues of similar nature which would be taken up once the two sides would sit across the table, Mr Yousufzai said.
Another member of the government team, who did not want to come on record, said: “We have serious doubts if Maulana Haq Saheb wields enough influence with the TTP leadership to get a peace agreement implemented if tomorrow we agree on one.”
While announcing the four-member government committee in the National Assembly, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said it would be fully independent to take decisions.
“We need a seriousness of this nature from the TTP side as well,” the committee member said.
The TTP negotiators aired similar apprehensions on Tuesday when the government team declined to meet them. A furious Maulana Samiul Haq said at a press conference that he had travelled all the way from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the meeting as desired by Irfan Siddiqui, convener of the government team, but “at the eleventh hour I am told they need some clarifications”.
The Maulana claimed that he had a telephonic conversation with Mr Siddiqui on Monday and they agreed to meet in Islamabad at 2pm today (Tuesday), but at about 1.30pm the convener expressed his unavailability.
“Even if the Taliban nominate a minor Madressah student or a Muazzin to hold peace talks the government has no option but to meet him,” a visibly irritated Maulana Haq said in response to the government demand that a complete five-member committee as originally announced by the TTP was needed to formally start talks.
He said it was because of his presence in the TTP committee that the government had been able to establish contacts with the Taliban leadership. Otherwise, he added, it had no means to approach the Taliban.
In a direct swipe at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the JUI-S chief, who is known as father of the Taliban in Pakistan, said the government was acting under foreign pressure and, therefore, looking for excuses to derail the proposed talks.
“Even last month when I personally met the prime minister he asked me to contact the Taliban leadership but later refused to even see me under American pressure. And now when the TTP has shown its willingness for peace talks, the prime minister is again running away,” he said.
The Maulana claimed that the TTP had reposed full confidence in him and said he could persuade TTP leaders to come to Islamabad for talks but for that to happen the government had to be serious.
Answering a question, he said the moment two sides would get into formal contact he would ask for a ceasefire from the two sides.
JUI-F’s Mufti Kifayatullah, who was nominated by the TTP for its committee but his name was withdrawn by his party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, told a private TV channel that he was personally in favour of joining the TTP team and wondered why his party which was in the government was not willing to take the responsibility.
The government committee comprises Irfan Siddiqui, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Affairs; Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan; journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai and retired Major Amir Khan. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will assist the committee.
Initially, the TTP team included the names of PTI chief Imran Khan, Maulana Samiul Haq, chief cleric of Lal Masjid Maulana Abdul Aziz, Professor Mohammad Ibrahim of the Jamaat-i-Islami and former JUI-F lawmaker Mufti Kifayatullah. But Imran Khan and Mufti Kifayatullah declined to be part of the TTP committee on recommendations of their parties.