• COAS, ISI DG brief parliamentary panel on national security
• Opposition expresses reservations over dialogue without debate in parliament
• Bilawal warns against amnesty, asks authorities to let Tehreek-i-Taliban Afghanistan speak for themselves

ISLAMABAD: The government on Monday confirmed for the first time that a ceasefire has been reached with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), with a senior minister saying that talks were under way “in line with the Constitution” and the ceasefire could be extended keeping in view the progress made in the talks.

This was stated by Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, according to the state-run Pakistan Television, following the meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security on Monday. It was not clear if his remarks were based on the briefing at the meeting.

Also, according to a statement issued by TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani, the ceasefire will be effective for a month, from November 9 till December 9.

Political leadership, members of both houses of the parliament, provincial leadership as well as Azad Jammu and Kashmir premier and military leadership participated in the five-hour-long meeting, which was chaired by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in the main hall of the assembly.

Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt Gen Faiz Hamid, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar and other senior military officers participated in the meeting that started at 11:30am and lasted around five hours.

Reporters were not allowed to enter the main hall due to ‘security reasons’. The state-run TV later quoted the information minister as saying that the Taliban-led Afghan government had played the role of a facilitator in the talks. “The state’s sovereignty, national security, peace in relevant areas and social and economic stability will be considered during the talks,” Mr Chaudhry said.

The minister said progress on the restoration of ‘complete peace’ in the areas of the country was a positive development. The announcement came around a month after disclosure by Prime Minister Imran Khan that the government was in talks with some TTP groups, seeking reconciliation.

Informed sources told Dawn that the opposition expressed reservation over the initiation of the process without consensus of the parliament. They said the parliamentary committee on national security was earlier informed that talks with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban were under way.

A participant in the meeting held with NA Speaker in the chair said the pros and cons of talks with the TTP were discussed in the meeting.

Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari was quoted as saying that the government could not make unilateral decisions. He underlined the need for “clarity on vital matters”, pointing out that outfits had used amnesty in the past only to regroup themselves and launch more attacks on Pakistan.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari was of the opinion that parliament should be debating all vital issues to evolve consensus.

He called for a balanced approach and said Pakistan should advocate for aid for Afghanistan. “We should leave it to Tehreek-i-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) to speak for themselves. We looked like we were running the TTA show,” he was quoted as saying.

“The use of Afghan soil can be dangerous for us,” he warned, observing that a proposal to give amnesty to TTP was illogical.

“There need not be a binary between kinetic war and talking to militants,” he said, asserting that the only way to hold talks with the TTP was from a position of strength. “We need real Red Lines especially with respect to the Constitution,” he pointed out.

He also referred to the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi and assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and asked, “What about those that the TTP had martyred?”.

“Our national security needs balance but since the fall of Kabul we have seen here too an open admission by the government to concede monopoly on the use of force by the state. The dangers are brewing fast like a perfect storm for Pakistan,” he warned.

He also drew attention of the participants to the question if the TTP and the TTA not two sides of the same coin.

A press release later issued by the National Assembly said participants were comprehensively briefed about matters pertaining to national security, foreign affairs, internal and external challenges faced by county. They were also briefed about regional and political challenges, especially the situation in India-held Jammu and Kashmir and that of Afghanistan.

At the outset, it was noted that Pakistan would continue all-out support for peace and stability in Afghanistan as the country believed peace in the neighbouring country would pave the way for regional peace and development. The participants in the meeting observed that Pakistan was making every effort to ensure that the current situation did not give rise to another humanitarian or economic crisis that would add to the plight of the people. In this regard, Pakistan was in constant touch with the international community, they noted while expressing the hope that the territory of Afghanistan would not be used against Pakistan.

The parliamentary committee meeting was also apprised about the border control system on the Pak-Afghan borders, the press release stated.

“Parliamentary and political leadership expressed satisfaction about Pakistan strategy to tackle internal and external challenges and expressed good wishes for prosperity, development and progress of Afghanistan. They also said such meetings paved way for harmony and unanimity of views on national issues,” it added.

At the end of the briefing, committee members presented their recommendations.

Besides the federal ministers, advisers, special assistants to the prime minister, Senate chairman, PPP chairman, PML-N president, NA speaker and deputy speaker, leaders of the opposition in both houses of parliament, AJK PM, chief ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh, members of parliament representing different political parties, NA defence committee members attended the meeting.

Sources said the ISI DG and the COAS initially briefed the parliamentary committee on national security-related issues. They said Gen Bajwa also gave comprehensive replies to questions during a questions and answer session. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Leader of the Opposition in NA Shehbaz Sharif and parliamentary leaders also spoke.

Before the national security meeting, Mr Sharif also presided over a meeting of the opposition parties which was also attended by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) lawmaker Asad Mehmood and MNA Mohsin Dawar.

Meanwhile, as media personnel were barred from entering the parliament building during the national security committee meeting, reporters staged a sit-in outside the parliament to protest against the restriction, whereas they also staged a walkout from press galleries during sessions of both houses of the parliament as a mark of protest against the restriction.

Awami National Party leader Zahid Khan condemned the restriction on journalists’ entry to the parliament and called upon the NA speaker to explain the move.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2021

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