Eleventh hour cancellation of peace talks between the two committees representing the government and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan has raised doubts about peace. Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads the Taliban committee even expressed fears that a military campaign may be launched. He urged the Taliban to show patience and not do anything rash. There are many players, both in Pakistan and outside that do not want the peace talks to succeed.
Tuesday February 4, 2014, 08:53 EST
Serious doubts have been raised about prospects for peace after the much-anticipated meeting between two committees representing respectively the government and the Taliban failed to materialize in Islamabad today.
Scheduled for 2 pm today, the government side baulked at the last minute demanding “clarifications” on certain matters from the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) nominated committee before agreeing to meet.
The last minute cancellation prompted Maulana Samiul Haq, the lead representative on the TTP committee to allege that the government was not serious about peace talks and expressed fear that a military operation was about to be launched.
The peace talks offer announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week in parliament had come amid strong speculation that the military was about to launch operations in North Waziristan. While Sharif surprised everyone by his peace talks announcement, he added a further surprise about the names of people who would be on the government negotiating committee.
No one was more surprised than the committee members themselves. They had not been consulted ahead of time. The committee comprises Irfan Siddiqui, Advisor to Sharif on National Affairs, Rustam Khan Mohmand, a retired senior bureaucrat and former ambassador to Afghanistan, Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran journalist based in Peshawar, and Major (retired) Amir Khan, who had worked for Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and was involved in the Afghan case.
The committee announced by the TTP was equally surprising. It comprised Maulana Samiul Haq of Jamiatul Ulama Islam (S), Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, and Professor Mohammed Ibrahim, Jamaat-e Islami Member of the National Assembly from Bannu.
Two other members named by the TTP—Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) chief Imran and Jamiatul Ulama Islam (F) group provincial leader Mufti Kifayatullah—to represent them declined the offer.
Imran Khan’s party issued a five-point agenda that included demand for a ceasefire and halt to attacks by the Taliban before serious talks could begin. The PTI also called for a transparent process and a timeline once the two sides had met.
Maulana Fazlur Rahman, chief of the Jamiatul Ulama Islam (F) said he was not consulted either by the government or the Taliban and therefore, his representative Mufti Kifayatullah would not participate on the Taliban committee.
The Jamiatul Ulama (F) chief also said he was not hopeful about the outcome of the talks.
Although the two committees failed to meet, Maulana Samiul Haq appealed to the Taliban to remain patient and refrain from any inflammatory reactions in response to the government’s handling of affairs.
There is some confusion about the mandate of the two committees. Do they have the authority to take decisions or they are simply acting as go-betweens for the two sides? While the government committee said it needed some clarifications from the other side, would it not have been better to discuss these issues by meeting face-to-face rather than talking through the media?
Unfortunately many Pakistani journalists act as agents of foreign entities and miss no opportunity to create confusion at the behest of their foreign masters.
This is what the PTI had warned about after it issued a statement on Monday saying there are many forces opposed to the peace talks. The last time, peace talks were planned and a government-appointed delegation was about to visit the Taliban, a US drone strike killed the leader of the TTP Hakimullah Mehsud, sabotaging the talks.
The two sides had held separate meetings in Islamabad on Monday and later decided to meet on Tuesday, according to Professor Ibrahim of the Taliban committee.
“We will talk to the Taliban after meeting the government committee,” he said. “Our first priority is peace. We will try to have a ceasefire first and then will try for a permanent peace.”
Professor Ibrahim is a very decent man and his wishes are laudable but the problem is that there are too many spoilers whose interests are served only if there is turmoil in Pakistan.