ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed on Saturday conceded that talks with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had broken down.

The minister also revealed that Pakistan did not feature directly in the talks, which were held between the Taliban regime in Kabul and the TTP.

“Look, the [Afghan] Taliban were negotiating with the TTP and what we were told in our meetings was that their conditions and demands were so harsh and unacceptable that talks could not continue,” he told a press conference on Saturday.

He said it was the TTP itself that violated the ceasefire between both sides, adding that “We did not contact them after that”.

Alluding to the recent spike in incidents of terrorism, he said blame could not be put on any one side. However, he claimed the Afghan Taliban played a key role in the process, which was appreciated by Islamabad.

Minister asks opposition to reschedule its protest as OIC dignitaries will be in capital on March 23

He also said that the government’s doors were open if the TTP was ready to abide by the law and Constitution. “If they will fight, we will fight back,” he declared.

In October 2021, Prime Minister Imran Khan had revealed in an interview with Turkish media that his government was in talks with the TTP.

The PM admitted that Islamabad was offering the group a number of incentives, ranging from political amnesty to prisoner releases, in return for laying down arms.

However, opposition parties reacted sharply to this revelation, rejecting PM Khan’s ‘unilateral’ decision to offer TTP amnesty and calling on the government to take parliament into confidence over the terms of the engagement with the outlawed terrorist outfit.

At Saturday’s press conference, Sheikh Rashid said the Afghan Taliban had guaranteed their soil would not be used against Pakistan, adding: “Today, the environment [in Afghanistan] is not hostile towards Pakistan.”

He claimed that certain splinter groups were trying to carry out terrorist activities in Pakistan following the defeat of NDS and RAW and international forces in Afghanistan. At another point, he said international forces inimical to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor were behind the rising tide of terrorism in the country.

Mr Rashid also said his ministry had alerted all law enforcement agencies, asking them to be vigilant.

“Last night, the Ministry of Interior told all armed forces, civil armed forces, IGs (inspectors general of police), chief secretaries, Frontier Corps IGs and Rangers IG to stay alert and watchful,” he said.

Opposition’s long march

Talking about the opposition alliance’s planned long march towards Islamabad, he reminded the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s (PDM) that roads to the capital will be closed that day due to the presence of dignitaries.

“Leaders from the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) are coming on March 23. From March 21, roads will be closed. So, you can have your march four days before or four days after the event,” he said.

He called on the opposition to reconsider its decision to march, reminding them that: “There is Covid-19 and [then] there are international issues... hundreds of guests will be here to attend the [Pakistan Day] parade.”

It is worth noting that in Sept 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s maiden visit to Pakistan had to be postponed due to the PTI sit-in that had all but paralysed capital. At the time, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government had asked the protesting PTI and its allies to call off the protest in deference to the visiting dignitary, but the calls were not heeded.

Addressing speculation regarding the possibility of emergency being imposed in the country, and the introduction of the presidential system of government, Mr Rashid made it clear on Saturday that no such proposal had been discussed by the cabinet so far.

Ruling out any threat to the present government, he claimed PM Khan would complete his five year term. He broadsided the opposition, saying that they had been insisting that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s days were numbered since the party came into power.

A few days ago, they had claimed it was only a matter of days [before our government collapsed]. “Neither are we going anywhere, nor are you capable of coming into power,” he said, addressing the opposition.

Talking about the possibility of a no-trust motion against PM Khan, he said the opposition was 12 lawmakers short when the Finance Bill was passed, adding that in case of a no-confidence move, they would be 25 votes short.

“If they make a blunder that harms democracy, they will be responsible and held accountable for their actions.”

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022

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