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Talks possible if Taliban decommission arms: PM

February 25, 2011

Prime Minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani addresses National Assembly session at Parliament House in Islamabad on Friday, February 25, 2011. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: Using a term he sees as more palatable to the Pakhtun culture, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday set a new condition for peace talks with Pakistani Taliban rebels: decommissioning, rather than laying down, of weapons. He told the National Assembly his government would be prepared for dialogue with the Taliban decommissioning or destroying their weapons and surrendering themselves to authorities such as political agents administering the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), but not with those pursuing a “foreign agenda”.

The prime minister spoke on the issue after a former interior minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, urged the government to initiate a dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban as the Afghan government was doing with the Afghan Taliban.

The government had been in the past demanding laying down of weapons by rebels as a condition for talks with them as part of its policy of three Ds – dialogue, development and deterrence – and the prime minister, in his remarks in Urdu, said “this (terminology) may not be considered good in the Pakhtun culture where weapons are regarded as ornaments (for Pakhtuns)”.

“Therefore, if they are willing to decommission (their weapons) and surrender themselves before the political agent, we are ready to talk to them,” he said, apparently borrowing a term from the April 10, 1998 Good Friday Agreement for peace in Northern Ireland, one of whose provisions was for the decommissioning of weapons possessed by the rebel paramilitary Irish Republican Army, which was overseen by an Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

“But we don’t want to talk to those who are following a foreign agenda,” he added, apparently referring to those taking cue from groups like Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. “Those who want to talk in the interest of Pakistan, we are ready to talk to them.”

Mr Sherpao, who leads his PPP-S faction based in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said in his speech during a law and order debate that problems in militancy-hit areas, such as the Malakand division and the Swat valley, had not ended with military operations, and asked if the Afghan government could talk to the Taliban in that country for the sake of peace, then why could the Pakistani government not do the same here?

He also called for legal proceedings against people detained in Malakand division for a long time following the 2009 military operation for alleged roles as militants, saying “there is a need to bring them in the legal loop”.

The prime minister said Pakistan welcomed peace efforts in Afghanistan, such as the formation of a special peace council headed by a former mujahideen leader, Burhanuddin Rabbani, and added: “A stable Afghanistan is in the best interest of Pakistan.” After the pm’s speech, the house was adjourned until 5pm on Monday.