ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: Defence Minister Khawaja Asif has rejected a major demand of the Taliban — release of non-combatants, particularly women and children.
Leaders of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are reported to have handed over to their committee headed by Maulana Samiul Haq a list of more than 60 such people who they say are in the custody of the armed forces.
The defence minister said in a statement issued here on Sunday that there were no women and children in the custody of security forces.
He said the federal authorities would investigate if Taliban provided concrete evidence about women and children being held by the forces. The statement was issued after Prof Ibrahim, a member of the TTP committee, said they had demanded that the government should show its goodwill by releasing the women and children.
In Lahore, meanwhile, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid hinted at a plan of action against groups of Taliban opposed to peace process.
“We’re trying to cover as much distance on the path to peace as we can by holding talks with Taliban. A decision against the elements which don’t want to join talks will be possible after completion of the process of dialogue,” he said at a meeting with senior journalists, TV anchorpersons and intellectuals.
Referring to the gains made so far by the government, he said those engaged in the talks had disowned the splinter groups carrying out terrorist activities despite a ceasefire announced by the TTP and condemned recent incidents of terrorism.
Otherwise, he said, the TTP had been owning such attacks in the past and gloating about their success.
“The time to take on (militant) groups opposed to talks is not far. Let the dialogue with Taliban be completed,” he said.
Asked if the government planned to introduce changes in school syllabus to do away with material which fanned extremism, he said the government alone could not change social behaviours and civil society would have to join hands with the government in this regard.
APP adds: The minister said there was no “super committee” comprising the prime minister, the interior minister and an adviser to the prime minister for supervising talks with Taliban as reported by a section of the media.
He said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was the focal person for the dialogue process. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is regularly briefed on the progress and the briefings are also attended by the defence minister.
Mr Rashid said he had directed the press information department to pay advertisement bills within 30 days of their verification by advertising agencies. Delay in payment of bills has been caused by non-verification of the bills by advertising agencies and court rulings in certain cases.
About non-payment of salaries and unlawful sacking of media personnel, he said such grievances could be redressed through forums like courts and journalists’ organisations.