The four-member committee formed to hold talks with Taliban held its first meeting on January 31. The committee, on the same day, also met with the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister. The prime minister assured the committee that all possible support shall be provided with a view to making all its endeavors a complete success. The prime minister said government had pinned high hopes on this committee and expects some result-oriented talks in the coming days.
The committee comprises four persons who have precise knowledge and acumen in their respective fields. Prime Minister’s advisor Irfan Siddiqui is well known for his right-wing inclinations and having close relations with various Taliban as well as religious parties. As a columnist Siddiqui always stood out for his vocal and ardent criticism of corrupt practices and injustices. Likewise, he has earned a lot of respect and credibility for penning down impartial pieces, no matter which side of divide he belonged to. Another member of the committee Major Amir is considered as a mentor and creator of Taliban and he enjoys respect among almost all factions of Taliban. Similarly his close links with Haqqani network and even Northern Alliance of Afghanistan probably made him the most suitable choice for this task.
Rahimullah Yousazai is a veteran journalist and has written extensively on the Afghan issue. He is the one who conducted last interview of Osma bin Laden. Like other members he too enjoys respect among various factions of Taliban. Rustam Shah Mohmand is a former bureaucrat and has served in FATA for a long time. So he knows all ins and outs of the region besides having close intimacy with Taliban groups. The selection of the committee therefore appears to be quite relevant and targeted.
Nevertheless, the question here is to what extent this committee could achieve the desired results. It would all depend as to how the other side responds to this committee and its peace overtures. Till now, the reports that we have got from various Taliban factions, the govt step to constitute the committee had widely been hailed and as reports suggest, Taliban too are ready to engage in purposeful negotiations.
Now what Taliban exactly want from the government? There are three principal demands. First release of all Taliban prisoners who are in Pakistan’s custody for the moment, second, gradual withdrawal of security forces from the tribal areas and thirdly imposition of shariah law in the tribal areas. There are some factions who want impositions of Shairah law in the rest of the country as well however this demand is unlikely to be considered or given any weitage by the govt negotiating team. Regarding shariah in tribal areas, about 70 per cent of the area is not under the control of Pakistan government so Pakistani law does not apply on these areas. The govt side would say, okay, that area is in your control so it is up to you to practice whatever law you want to.
The govt side is likely to open negotiations with the leading factions of Taliban such as the one led by Maulvi Fazlullah. However there is a strong realization in the govt circles that smaller groups will have to be taken on board as well in order for success of these talks. Then, there are certain elements that do not want any rapprochement between govt and the Taliban factions therefore they might intensify their activities to scuttle these talks. There is a dominant view within the government and security establishment that it is not always Taliban who carry out bombings and sectarian killings rather such acts are performed by those elements who want Pakistan security establishment to launch Waziristan operation and thus get trapped there. In this backdrop, govt decision to form a committee for talks rather than initiating a full scale military operation turns out to be a smart and wise move.
Summing up, now when the Taliban talks committee has been formed, govt may entrust the Pakistan’s security establishment with the task to handle this and keep an eye on what goes on between the committee and Taliban because people of Pakistan voted this government into power for resolution of their problems. Talks with Taliban are not a problem of ordinary citizen who is confronted with a plethora of never ending woes. The provision of basic necessities of life such as electricity, gas, justice at doorsteps, and adherence to constitution of Pakistan must appear at the top of the govt agenda.
If govt pursues these goals, it would not only be in the interest of people of Pakistan but it would secure future of the government as well for if it does not do so, a vacuum shall be created and someone then may jump into the fray to fill that vacuum. Dr. Tahirul Qadri is girding up his loins by they way!!