• Imran says talks on with Pakistani Taliban
• PPP slams govt move without parliament debate
• Minister says elements willing to shun violence be given a chance
ISLAMABAD: In a stunning development, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday offered general pardon to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) provided the banned group laid down weapons, disclosing that the government was in talks with some groups of the outfit seeking reconciliation.
The opposition Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) questioned the move to hold negotiations without taking the parliament into confidence, arguing that it would only add to the pains and grief of families of martyrs, whereas Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry asserted that the TTP members who wanted to shun the path of violence should be given a chance to return to the mainstream and lead a normal life.
“Yes, we forgive them and they become normal citizens,” Prime Minister Khan said in an interview with TRT World when asked if the government was asking them to lay down arms.
Not only the opposition but some analysts also were uncertain about outcome of the PM’s disclosure, with PPP demanding the National Assembly session be convened at the earliest to discuss the matter.
The prime minister and all previous governments (since the 9/11 attacks) had been holding mainly the TTP responsibly for the killing of over 80,000 innocent citizens at the behest of some anti-Pakistan international forces.
In his interview with TRT World, Mr Khan said: “In fact some of Pakistani Taliban [TTP] groups want to talk to the government for some peace and reconciliation and we are in talks with some of the groups.” There were different groups that had formed the TTP, he elaborated. “Yes, we are in talks with them on reconciliation process. We are in talks with them. It’s a reconciliation process,” he reiterated.
PM Khan agreed that the Afghan Taliban were facilitating the talks in that the negotiations were being held in Afghanistan.
However, when the interviewer asked if the Afghan Taliban were acting as “mediators” between the TTP and Pakistan, the premier explained: “Since the talks were taking place in Afghanistan, so in that sense, yes.”
Asked why the TTP militants were attacking Pakistani security forces if the group was in talks with the government, the prime minister responded: “I think that was a spate of attacks, but we are talking. And there might not be any settlement, but we are talking.” He said he did not believe in military solutions, recalling that he had expressed same opinion about the US-Taliban talks. “I do not believe in military solutions, I am anti-military solution and as a politician I believe political dialogue is the way ahead,” he said, adding that dialogue was the only way out in the case of Afghanistan as well.
Earlier in September, President Arif Alvi had suggested that the Pakistani government could consider giving an amnesty to those TTP members who had not remained involved in “criminal activities” and who laid down their weapons and agreed to adhere to the Constitution of Pakistan. Such an amnesty could be one of the ways to “establish peace”, he had said.
The president’s remarks were followed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi who in an interview on Sept 15 articulated the same offer stating that the government would be “open to giving” a pardon to TTP members if they promised not to get involved in terrorism and submit to the Constitution.
However, PPP leader Shazia Marri with her senior party colleague Qamar Zaman Kaira at a press conference said the PM should have taken the parliament in confidence before holding talks with the TTP.
She asked the government to convene a fresh session of the National Assembly for a debate on the matter. She also questioned the need for holding talks with the outfit. Engaging TTP for talks would add to the pains and grief of tens of thousands of families who had lost their loved ones in terrorist attacks in the country, the PPP leader said.
Retired Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi, a defence analyst, in a private TV show also shared similar thoughts on the matter. “First it is the right of the families of those martyrs to decided whether the government should hold talks with the TTP or not,” he said. However, he also believed that bringing the TTP in the national mainstream if they laid down their weapons was the only solution for durable peace in the country.
The defence analysts said the government should ‘catagorise TTP members’ and should not give any mercy to those who were on its top hierarchy and responsible for terror plots and killings but to those who were misguided due to some sort of temptation.
Another analyst said the TTP holding talks with the government was not breaking news but the premier’s statement might sabotage the process and put the Afghan Taliban in a difficult position in case they were facilitating the talks.
On the matter, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry was of the opinion that TTP militants should be given the chance to return to the mainstream if they wanted to shun the path of violence.
In a video message, the minister said Prime Minister Khan’s statement about the TTP was being discussed at present and there was a need to share its background with the people.
“The state of Pakistan had gone through enormous ordeal as it sacrificed hundreds of lives in the war against terrorism,” he said.
There were various splinter groups in the TTP and amongst them some individuals wanted to honour their pledge of allegiance to Pakistan by returning to mainstream, he explained. “The peace-loving individuals who wanted to move forward in accordance with the constitution of the country should be allowed to return to lead a normal life,” he added.
The minister said the country had defeated terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda in Pakistan and foiled India’s conspiracies against Pakistan. “Right now, Pakistan is much stronger and determined than it was ever before,” he added.
He said past policies of the state had been formulated in peculiar circumstances.
‘Over 3,000 elements back’
More than 3,000 alienated elements after being exploited by India through conspiracies had already returned to mainstream, the minister disclosed. Numerous families and individuals who wanted to stay loyal to the country but could not do it in the past were willing to pledge their allegiance to the country, Mr Chaudhry explained.
Prime Minister Imran Khan had set principles, he said. “We want to move forward on the basis of these principles to bring back those people who lost the right path in certain circumstances and now want to live life like an ordinary citizen while abiding by the Constitution of the country.”
PM meeting on Afghanistan
Later, the prime minister while chairing a meeting to review current situation in Afghanistan said Pakistan wanted lasting peace in the neighbouring country and desired a representative government there in line with the aspirations of the Afghan people.
Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi earlier briefed him on his participation in the UN General Assembly session and meetings with other world leaders on the sidelines. At those meetings, he said, the current situation in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan’s position on human rights violations by India in occupied Jammu and Kashmir were discussed.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2021