PESHAWAR: A 17-member delegation of tribal elders and others reached Kabul on Saturday to resume talks with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), just as a team of senior religious scholars returned home after negotiations with the TTP leadership.

The eight-member ulema’s delegation, led by Mufti Taqi Usmani, has returned from Afghanistan after holding meetings with the TTP leadership and Afghan Taliban.

A source privy to the ulema’s delegation claimed that Mr Usmani, respected by the Afghan Taliban as well as the TTP, was able to convince the militant group that he had reviewed Pakistan’s Constitution and there was nothing in there which could be construed as un-Islamic.

Read: Don’t negotiate with TTP

According to the source, Mr Usmani argued that even if the militant group deemed a clause or two as un-Islamic, it was neither their mandate to change it or provided any justification for them to take up arms against the state.

Usmani optimistic about outcome of meetings with Afghan Taliban

The source described it as a major breakthrough. There was no formal comment from Mr Usmani, the government or the TTP.

The militant group, the source said, again broached the issue of ex-Fata merger, but Mr Usmani told the TTP leadership that he was a religious scholar and he could only speak on religious matters.

While the TTP released a two-page statement reiterating its demands and calls for an Islamic system in Pakistan, Mr Usmani in a tweet sounded optimistic that their meetings with the Afghan Taliban leadership were useful in strengthening relationship, restoration of peace and achievement of common goals between the two countries.

Mr Usmani did not make any reference to their meetings with the TTP leadership but said more details [about the negotiations] would be shared later. Unconfirmed reports said the outlawed group handed a charter of demands to the delegation.

The delegation that reached Kabul on Saturday is led by Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif, Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Information and Broadcasting. It includes tribal elders and parliamentarians and is scheduled to stay in Afghanistan for four days.

This would be the group’s second visit to the Afghan capital to hold parleys with the TTP leadership. The first delegation comprised 58 members.

The first round, described by a participant, as “cordial and at times tough”, did not make any headway on the TTP’s demand for the reversal of the ex-Fata merger into KP but the two sides agreed to return to the table after consultation.

In May, an official team from Pakistan held direct talks with the TTP leadership and while deadlock persisted on the key TTP demand, the two sides acceded to the Afghan Taliban leadership’s request for an indefinite ceasefire and continuation of peace talks.

Dawn has learnt that another meeting was held between the two sides towards the end of June under the auspices of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” which did make some headway, prompting optimism that a possible peace agreement was achievable.

Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2022

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