Govt assailed over unilateral TTP talks

Published October 4, 2021
This combination file photo shows former president Asif Ali Zardari (L) and PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman (R). — DawnNewsTV/Facebook
This combination file photo shows former president Asif Ali Zardari (L) and PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman (R). — DawnNewsTV/Facebook

• Zardari says only cure for terrorists lies in full implementation of NAP
• PML-N recalls country has paid a heavy price for such secret negotiations

ISLAMABAD: Rejecting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s “unilateral” decision to offer amnesty to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and “inconsistent” statements of cabinet members on the issue, opposition parties on Sunday asked the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government to take the parliament into confidence over the terms of engagements with the banned terrorist outfit.

The parliamentarians belonging to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) expressed concern over the government’s act of keeping the talks with the TTP secret.

“What political solutions he (the PM) wishes to undertake with what they call the ‘good Taliban’ need to be clarified as do the questions that arise from the mass sacrifice [that the] civilians and soldiers have made in unprecedented numbers while we fought terrorist groups to the tune of 80,000 lives?” asked PPP vice president and the party’s parliamentary leader in Senate Sherry Rehman in a statement issued here on Sunday.

Ms Rehman said foreign and security policy, which only really worked in bedrock of national unity, was now routinely subjected to unilateral and clashing pronouncements by cabinet members that exposed the country to questions at home and biting criticism at international forums.

Ms Rehman, who is also the chairperson of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, regretted that while one minister suggested that the TTP was hand in gloves with terrorist groups nurtured in India against Pakistan, another said they could perhaps disarm and rehabilitate them (TTP militants) if they renounced violence.

The prime minster himself, she said, disclosed changes in Pakistan’s policy vis-a-vis TTP on a foreign TV channel, instead parliament.

Ms Rehman issued the statement a day after federal Minister for Interior Sheikh Rashid Ahmed while defending the government’s move to offer amnesty to the TTP stated that the offer was only for “good Taliban” and talks in this connection were taking place at the “highest level”.

Without explaining the “highest level”, the minister, who was talking to reporters in Karachi on Saturday, made it clear that the offer was not for those militants who were responsible for bloodshed in the country, citing the December 2014 massacre in Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) which left 140-plus schoolchildren, principal, teachers and other staff members dead.

In a significant development, Prime Minister Imran Khan during an interview to a Turkish TV channel on Friday offered amnesty to the TTP provided the terror outfit laid down arms, disclosing that the government was holding talks with some groups of the outfit seeking reconciliation.

“Risks to Pakistan arise not just from a region in turmoil as well as global transitions that pose challenges, but also from the present government’s refusal to democratise policy-making and inability to forge unity in the parliament at a time of growing challenges to the country,” said Ms Rehman.

“Nobody knows except a small coterie about what terms of engagement are being forged with any country that impacts Pakistan. While we are told that Pakistan should not be forced into any arising global bloc, nobody has addressed how we are to navigate both the stresses arising out of the Asia-Pacific region, or the broader global order where Pakistan has commitments and exposure. Nobody has been taken on board about either the terms of engagement with the US, with its vast influence on the IMF, multilateral agencies and even FATF, where Pakistan has been on the grey list for five years despite passing a number of legislations to supposedly meet compliance for clearance,” said Ms Rehman, who had also served as the country’s ambassador to the US during her party’s previous government.

The PPP senator was of the view that if geo-strategic alignments and their politics were now driving multilateral policy towards Pakistan, then the parliament needed to know about it inside the parliament, and not from press talks. She said that just one closed-door National Security Committee session was clearly not enough to address either the pace and scale of events challenging Pakistan and in that too despite the sensitive nature of the subjects, the PM was conspicuously absent.

Ms Rehman said no Pakistani would quietly accept the derailment of democracy, embodied in parliament, nor would they surrender their constitutional right to question sensitive terms of engagement with any non-state group or country.

“There is now little confidence on this cabinet to negotiate terms with any actor international or local, because clearly they are unable to manage a balance that is acceptable, let alone favourable to the Pakistani people,” she said, recalling that the PPP used joint sessions of parliament to build strategic knowledge for parliament and then sought permission for a consensual course of action via representative committees of parliament.

On the other hand, she alleged that the current government only used joint sessions to bulldoze bills which it could not legitimately pass or answer questions about.

“History has taught us painful lessons about unilateral decisions taken in haste covertly. We do not have the capacity, either economic or otherwise to absorb the foreign policy disunity, non-disclosure or the derailment of democracy. All of these may well form a perfect storm to polarise and imperil the country. It is time the danger signs yielded change,” she concluded.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari in a statement while condemning the attack on a vehicle of security forces in North Waziristan said the only cure for terrorists was to fully implement the National Action Plan.

“Destroying nurseries of terrorism is the cure for those who challenge the state’s writ,” Mr Zardari said, adding that terrorists needed to be dealt with as enemies of the country.

PML-N Senator Irfan Siddiqui in his statement said it was “unfair” to keep negotiations with the TTP secret, adding that the offer of amnesty to the TTP without taking into confidence the nation and parliament had raised many questions.

He recalled that in 2014, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif had taken all political parties onboard before negotiating with the TTP and announced the formation of a committee for this purpose in the parliament.

He said that Mr Sharif had himself visited the residence of Imran Khan at that time to apprise him of the development.

Asking the government to inform all political parties before taking any step toward negotiations with the TTP, Mr Siddiqui said Pakistan had already paid a heavy price for this type of secret negotiations.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2021

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