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PM Nawaz forms panel for talks with Taliban; gives peace 'another chance'

30 January, 2014

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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday announced to give peace 'another chance' and named a new four-member non-political team to help government in its efforts for peace with Taliban.

"Entire nation will stand by government if it decides to eliminate terrorists by force, I know it. However, we want to give peace another chance since offer of talks has come from the other side," the prime minister told the National Assembly, amid doubts government's move will have any serious impact given deep mistrust between the two sides as well as what are being described highly impracticable pre-conditions by Taliban for the negotiation process to start.

The committee announced by the prime minister comprises his Adviser on National Affairs Irfan Siddiqui, Major (r) Aamir, senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai and former ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand – two journalists, one former intelligence man and a former diplomat.

While the formation of peace committee by the government has dismissed speculation about any imminent full-fledged military operation against Taliban, the prime minister also cautioned terrorists that his government won't allow the country to be 'hostage' to the terrorists and extremists. "Terrorism and talks cannot go side by side. Common people are being attacked and our very existence is in danger," the prime minister told the House. He said innocent children were being targeted and whole society was surrounded by fear.

Lambasting Taliban for rejecting government's first offer of negotiations, the prime minister told Taliban to announce ceasefire and come to the dialogue table. "Terrorism has no place in Islam. We are under obligation of our religion and the constitution to protect the lives and properties of people of Pakistan," the prime minister said, as he told Taliban to "stop acts of terrorism forthwith".

The prime minister said his government was doing all what it could to stop drone strikes by US, but argued that these attacks could never justify bomb attacks on innocent children, polio workers and personnel of the security forces. "Are the innocent children or the innocent civilians who are killed in bomb attacks by Taliban are responsible for drone strikes," he asked, and maintained that killing of innocent people could not be tolerated anymore.

"I can understand the pain of a father who has to lower his young son with his own hands into the grave. I have seen kids blossoming like flowers in blood stained school uniforms," an emotional prime minister told the Lower House. The government, however, exercised restraint despite every such act was extremely painful", he added.

Nawaz said he will personally supervise the committee set up to help initiate dialogue with the terrorists. He said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, being the focal person of dialogue process, will assist the committee. On a proposal by PTI chief Imran Khan, the prime minister agreed that the dialogue will be held in a 'transparent' and 'open' manner. "I want the dialogue to be open and transparent. I welcome all proposals by opposition leaders," he said. The government has included a nominee of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, Rustam Shah Mohmand, in the committee to ensure transparency and take along all the stakeholders, he said and hoped that Mohmand will keep Imran Khan updated on the progress in dialogue process.

The prime minister also invited opposition leaders to sit with him and give their proposals on the initiative. "Invite me to your house and I will come to sit with you. Let's make this process productive," he added. On time frame for the dialogue process, the prime minister said talks of a time frame didn't seem suitable at this moment. "Let the process move forward, a time frame can also be set."

While the government looks to be showing extreme restraint despite a fierce terror campaign by Taliban, many 'ifs' and 'buts' are attached to the government's peace initiative. Experts say the committee could play only a mediatory role and nothing more. While the committee would also want an assurance from the Taliban over halt to terrorist attacks, its success also hinges on the extent of mandate government gives to it.

Any drone strikes during the course of dialogue and possible sabotage attempts by 'bad Taliban' are two of many a major factor that have the potential to push this process to a dead end. While the government's move was generally approved by a wide section of society, some quarters also cast doubts on the intentions of both government and the Taliban. While government's formation of committee for peace talks is being seen as final step in the line of exhausting all options before launching a full-fledged operation in Waziristan, experts smell rat in the Taliban ranks as well and dub terrorists' repeated offers for peace talks as a clever move to buy some time for reorganisation and regrouping in preparation for a fresh onslaught.


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