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ISLAMABAD, Feb 14: Two weeks after the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) made a conditional offer for talks, the country’s major political parties went into a huddle and later announced that they had all agreed to pursue peace through dialogue.

The participants of the day-long conference organised by the Awami National Party (ANP) on Thursday, claimed to have reached a consensus on the need for dialogue with the militants, but failed to come out with any plan to achieve the lofty aim.

“Attaining peace through dialogue should be the first priority,” said the joint declaration of the APC read out by ANP President Asfandyar Wali Khan at the end of the closed-door conference that was attended by representatives of 24 political and religious parties and bar associations.

“The conference recognises that militancy and violence is … the entire country’s problem. The survival and progress of our country depends upon finding relevant solutions to the problem,” the joint declaration said.

Terming the conference a big achievement, the ANP chief said it was just the beginning of a process for peace, adding that all the participating parties were united on the single point that talks should be given priority.

“This was ANP’s initiative. We would welcome any other party that comes forward with another such conference the next time to end terrorism,” Mr Khan said.

To a question about the non-implementation of the two parliamentary resolutions on the terrorism issue, the ANP leader said the APC was more important because it included parties and politicians which were not part of the present parliament.

In response to another question, Mr Khan denied a perception that his party had convened the APC out of fear or because of threats.

The participants through the declaration demanded that the central and provincial governments announce aid packages for the relatives of the victims of terrorism.

Almost all the major parties had sent their delegations to the all-important event and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party was represented by its Secretary General Jahangir Badr and federal minister Nazar Mohammad Gondal.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Raja Zafarul Haq and Iqbal Zafar Jhagra represented the main opposition PML-N, whereas Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Mushahid Hussain, the President and the General Secretary of the PML-Q, were also there.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Farooq Sattar, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, JUI-F general secretary Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri and former chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Akram Khan Durrani and former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jahangir were other prominent participants.

Strong words but little action Background conversations with a number of participants revealed that the conference was held in a spirit of harmony. However, the enthusiasm did not — and nor was it expected to — reveal any concrete measures.

One politician told Dawn that the issue was discussed freely to the extent that most participants agreed that the political leadership did not play a leading and effective role in security matters. It was stressed that the politicians should take ownership of the issue.

Most of them agreed that they were not told and did not know enough about the issue.

In fact, the participant pointed out that the politicians even discussed acquiring more information about the ‘proxy wars’ being fought in different parts of the country and who or which groups were involved in them.

However, there was little in terms of concrete measures that could address these shortcomings and help the politicians take ownership.

After having discussed these longstanding problems, the participants reverted to clichés and hackneyed measures such as stressing “the need for dialogue”; “insisting that all dialogue will be held within the ambit of law and constitution”; “that there will be no dialogue before the Taliban lay down arms”; and “that any challenges to the writ of the state will not be accepted”.

In addition, all political parties stuck to their party lines and made sure that the official stand was highlighted during the day-long discussions.

Hence, Dawn has learnt PML-N’s Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who pointed out that the conference was held a bit late in the date [as the government was about to end] also urged the participants not to issue any joint declaration as they would not be able to come out with any concrete policy or decisions.

Chaudhry Nisar, who left the conference before its conclusion, told reporters present outside the main venue that everyone wanted peace and favoured dialogue with Taliban, but the issue was that who would hold talks as the present government had lost its credibility.

Farooq Sattar of the MQM used the opportunity to underline the need for local government because it can provide the local intelligence and “vigilance nizam” needed to get rid of militants.

The representatives from Sindhi nationalist parties such as Awami Tehrik’s Rasool Bakhsh Palejo argued that the focus of the conference should not be merely on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, since terrorism existed in Karachi and other parts of Sindh as well while the JUI-F pressed to include the representatives of tribal jirgas in the ensuing talks.

Apart from the poor timing of the conference, it seems the participants were also aware that a solely political initiative could not succeed.

Sahibzada Fazal Karim of the Sunni Ittehad Council told Dawn after the conference that such initiatives could not work till the military leadership was on board. “After all, they are the one who have to fight.”

Additional information provided by Amir Wasim and Khawar Ghumman