APC backs govt push for peace talks

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top political leaders, who had huddled together in Islamabad on Monday for an All Parties Conference (APC) on how to tackle growing terrorism, agreed on initiating peace talks with “all stakeholders”.  The APC, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and attended by the Army and intelligence chiefs as well as leaders of all major political parties, concluded after adopting a consensus resolution to overcome the ‘national security crisis’ besetting Pakistan.

After being briefed by the prime minister, the chief of Army Staff and the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) on the internal and regional security situation in the country, members called upon the federal government to “initiate dialogue with all stakeholders,” and authorised it “to take all necessary steps, including development of an appropriate mechanism and identification of interlocutors.”

There was no mention of the TTP or any other militant group active in the lawless tribal region. Instead, it said: “The process should be as inclusive as possible, with full participation of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other stakeholders. The ‘guiding principles’ for talks should be respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs and the creation of an environment which brings peace and tranquillity to the region.”

Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam briefed politicians on the military’s engagements in the lawless tribal region at the government-sponsored All Party Conference which continued for over four hours.

The presence of a considerable number of foreign fighters, multiple factions of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the absence of government’s writ, particularly in North Waziristan, were the “odds” which the military leadership said they were facing in the region.

In his about 40-minute presentation, the ISI chief informed the participants about the areas which had been cleared of militants in the tribal region and the ones where both foreign and local armed militants were based in North Waziristan.

The military’s current deployment in the region was also shared with the politicians. The gist of his briefing, according to a source, was that the government first would have to figure out those factions within the TTP which were local and willing to hold talks under the constitution of Pakistan.

It appeared to be the obvious reason that the APC in its eight-point resolution underscored the need for “negotiating peace with our own people in the tribal areas”.

And this is the only difference one can figure out in the declarations of two earlier APCs — one organised by the Awami National Party (ANP) on Feb 14 and the other by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) on Feb 28. Both the conferences had recommended dialogue with the Taliban fighting against the army.

Leaders also observed that previous resolutions passed by Parliament emphasised on “the imperative need to review our national security strategy, in the context of an independent foreign policy, with focus on peace and reconciliation, and to attach the highest priority to dialogue.”

These included the two resolutions adopted at the APCs organised by the JUI-F and ANP; one held by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sept 29, 2011; one by a joint sitting of parliament on May 14, 2011, and another in-camera joint sitting on Oct 22, 2008; recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security in April 2009; and a resolution adapting the guidelines set by the PCNS and passed by a joint sitting of parliament on April 12 last year. The resolution acknowledged the sacrifices rendered by the armed forces but agreed that they didn’t receive due recognition.

The APC also agreed that the “illegal and immoral drone attacks” carried out by the United States and “the blow-back form actions of Nato/ISAF forces in Afghanistan” are detrimental to peace in Pakistan.

“We declare that we shall ourselves determine the means and mode of fighting this war in our national interest and shall not be guided by the United States of America or any other country in this regard,” it said.

The resolution asked the government to “consider the possibility of taking the drone issue to the United Nations as drone attacks are a violation of international law.”

“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan are paramount and must be safe-guarded at all costs,” said the joint resolution. “We reaffirm our complete trust and confidence in our valiant Armed Forces and assure them of our full solidarity and support in overcoming any challenge to our national security or threat to our national interests.”

The meeting also deliberated on the separatist militancy and terrorism in Balochistan, and decided to authorise the provincial government to “initiate the process of dialogue with all estranged Baloch elements.”

“We are cognizant of the troubled situation in the Province of Balochistan and are fully aware of the concerns of our Baloch brothers and sisters,” said the joint resolution. “This meeting authorises the Provincial Government of Balochistan and its Chief Minister to initiate the process of dialogue with all estranged Baloch elements inside and outside of the country with a view to bring them back to national mainstream.”

Regarding the security situation in Karachi, the meeting called on the provincial and federal governments to address the “continued threat to life, property and business” in the commercial capital.

The meeting was attended by Army Chief Kayani, DG ISI Zaheerul Islam, Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Federal Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, all four provincial chief ministers and governor, and the leaders of all mainstream political parties of Pakistan.

Political leaders attending the conference included Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PT) chief Imran Khan, Jamat-i-Islami (JI) chief Syed Munawar Hasssan, head of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) senior leader Makhdoom Amin Faheem, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar, Pakistan Muslim League – Functional (PML-F) chief Pir Pagara, Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Haji Adeel, Balochistan National Party- Mengal (BNP-M) chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal and Pakistan Muslim League – Quaid (PML-Q) chief Chudhry Shujaat Hussain.

Prior to the conference PTI chief Imran Khan held a separate meeting with COAS Gen Kayani and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Politicians’ remarks

PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain asked the prime minister to go ahead with his decision of holding talks or otherwise as people had given him the mandate to run the country.

He said consensus was a good thing, but it wasn’t mandatory all the time. After all it was the government of the day which had to take policy decision, he added.

Imran Khan said the country was suffering because of bad decisions taken after the 9/11, adding that the time had come to get out of the so-called war on terror. He said the government should take a clear stand on drone attacks.

In a handout issued after the APC, the PTI appreciated the resolution, terming it a vindication of its stand on drone attacks and for talks with militants.

Farooq Sattar of the MQM called for vertical collaboration between the federal and provincial governments to bring peace to the country.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai said it was a good omen for the country that the civilian and army leadership was on the same page.