ISLAMABAD: As mainstream political parties on Friday questioned the government’s talks with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry defended the dialogue saying it was time to end the conflict.

“We have fought a prolonged war, and now we wish to conclude it,” he said while speaking virtually at a dialogue of political parties on TTP talks.

The event was hosted by Islamabad Policy Institute (IPI), a local think-tank.

The event, the think-tank said, was held to assess the political and security ramifications of the start of the dialogue with TTP; and to analyse the challenge of extending legitimacy to the terrorist group.

“We can’t prolong fights generation after generations,” he said, citing the example of the Northern Ireland peace process.

Minister says time has come to end the conflict

Talking about the regional environment, Mr Chaudhry said, a change had taken place in Afghanistan where Taliban had assumed control. Some of the TTP elements, he said, were linked to the Afghan Taliban.

The new regime in Afghanistan, he said, believed that TTP militants, who were not opposed to the government but got involved in the violence because of ‘other reasons’, needed to be engaged in talks.

The information minister, however, contended that not everyone in the TTP was ideologically committed to the group and many of them were ready for reconciliation with the government.

He emphasised that the hardcore base of the group was very narrow, comprising hardly 1,500 to 2,000 militants, and talks with those militants who were ready to part ways with the hard core elements would weaken the group.

“The state wanted to give an opening to the militants who do not want to raise arms against us,” he said, adding that those who did not renounce violence would be dealt with sternly.

He said the government was negotiating from a position of strength unlike the mistake committed by the United States in Afghanistan that did not talk to Afghan Taliban when it was at the peak of its power.

Vice President of PML-N Khurram Dastgir Khan said his party rejected talks with TTP at this stage because there was no clarity about the process and the TTP group with which talks were being held.

“Pakistani State’s negotiation with and mainstreaming of extremist religious groups have both failed badly in the recent past. There is, therefore, neither cause nor justification for Imran Khan regime’s unilateral offer of amnesty to an organisation that has murdered tens of thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers,” he said.

He said the government’s offer of the amnesty to the TTP was a blunder and the move had been taken without taking the parliament into confidence.

The PML-N, he said, wanted the government to brief the parliament forthwith with detailed facts as well as its overall strategy to deal with the group.

Secretary General of Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Farhatullah Babar also called on the government to clarify its position with regard to the dialogue with the terrorist group.

“Before we get into talks with the militants, we have to set our strategic interests and goals,” he said.

Mr Babar feared that Pakistan’s support for Afghan Taliban was helping the local militant groups psychologically.

Regarding the government’s amnesty offer for TTP militants, he said, concessions should not be extended unilaterally.

MQM leader Senator Faisal Subzwari said the poor progress on National Action Plan against terrorism and the absence of a narrative for countering the militants had brought the country to a situation it was confronted with now.

ANP Information Secretary Samar Bilour questioned the holding of talks with the militants at a time when the wounds inflicted by TTP were still fresh.

Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen Deputy Secretary General Nasir Shirazi said that the government before going into talks should ascertain that the TTP groups it was talking had shunned violence and it was committed to pursuing peace.

He also called for taking heirs of martyrs on board for talks with the militants.

Executive Director of IPI Prof Sajjad Bokhari said a key challenge facing the government, political parties, civil society and other stakeholders was figuring out how to disarm and demobilise the TTP without according it legitimacy.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2021

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