ISLAMABAD: Days after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s disclosure that talks were under way with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed surprised many by saying that he was unaware of any such dialogue.

“The Ministry of Interior has no role in this [talks with the TTP], and if the Taliban are engaged in any dialogue, it is not in my knowledge,” Mr Ahmed said while speaking at a press conference on Monday.

Initially, when asked to comment on the progress in talks with the TTP, he said they had not started.

When questioned whether he wants talks with the TTP, the minister replied that decisions on such matters were being taken “at the highest level” by the prime minister, and that “the Ministry of Interior does not take such decisions”.

Mr Ahmed also referred to the remarks made by Prime Minister Imran Khan that talks would be held only with those who lay down arms and abide by the law and Constitution, clarifying once again that it was the prime minister’s decision and his ministry was not involved in the matter.

The interior minister’s comments came amidst a scathing criticism from the opposition over the government’s unilateral decision to hold talks with a banned outfit without taking the parliament on board.

President Dr Arif Alvi was the first to hint at possible amnesty to members of the TTP who had not remained involved in “criminal activities” and who would lay down their weapons and agree to adhere to the Constitution.

Such an amnesty could be one of the ways to “establish peace”, the president had said.

Later, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had said in an interview that the Pakistani government would be “open to giving” pardon to members of the banned TTP if they promised not to get involved in terrorist activities and submit to the Pakistani Constitution.

But what sparked a heated debate over the issue was the disclosure by prime minister that talks with the TTP were already underway.

“There are different groups which form the TTP and some of them want to talk to our government for peace. So, we are in talks with them. It’s a reconciliation process,” the prime minister said in a recent interview with the TRT World.

Later, Sheikh Rashid too had clarified that the amnesty offer was only for the “good Taliban”.

“The case of those who were involved in incidents like the APS is different. And the case of those who left the country for various reasons is different,” he had said while replying to a question.

Online visa service for Afghans

Sheikh Rashid Ahmed also announced that an online visa service for Afghans had been launched to replace the visa-on-arrival system.

He said 20,000 people from Afghanistan had entered Pakistan since Aug 15, while 6,000 returned.

The minister said the Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) had been installed at 16 terminals on the Chaman border, with more to be installed at five other terminals.

Passport in 24 hours

He also announced the launch of an express passport service.

“A fee of Rs10,000 has been fixed for the one-day passport service meant for those in urgent need of a travel document,” Mr Ahmed said, adding that, “now citizens can get passports on an immediate basis within 24 hours”.

Sheikh Rashid said a new amnesty scheme had been sent to the cabinet for approval for those holding more than one passport or computerised national identity card (CNIC).

The minister said there were several complaints about issuance of fake CNICs.

He said so far 136 officials found involved in the practice had been suspended, and vowed to continue the process of purging National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) of black sheep.

Meanwhile, Nadra, in a statement, revealed that fake CNICs had been issued to around a dozen Iranian nationals who had illegally crossed into Pakistan.

As many as 10 Iranians who entered Pakistan illegally obtained CNICs in connivance with Nadra officials, a spokesperson for the authority said on Monday.

He said these people had illegally obtained ID cards between 2013 and June 2021, adding that Nadra had implemented a revised registration policy a few weeks ago to curb such activities.

The spokesperson said some employees who helped Iranians obtain illegal identity cards had been sacked and further investigations were underway, adding that the accountability process in Nadra has started from the leadership level.

The authority’s chairman, Tariq Malik, was quoted in the statement as saying that after assuming office, he took action against 136 employees who were suspended and also started 90 inquiries against 113 employees and charge-sheeted 267 others.

Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2021

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