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Taliban refuse to release Gilani's, Salmaan Taseer's sons

28 March, 2014

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ISLAMABAD: During the first round of direct talks between the government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Wednesday, the latter flatly refused to release the sons of ex-prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and ex-governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer and demanded the establishment of a free zone for the Taliban and evacuation of the army from Waziristan.

Seriousness as well as tense and lighter moments enveloped the lengthy talks between the two committees, constituted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the TTP for the dialogue process, with Major (retd) Aamir attending the deliberations on the special invitation in the tribal area.

It transpired during a chat with some participants that the Taliban would release Prof Ajmal Khan, Vice Chancellor of the Islamia College University, Peshawar, provided the government set free two of their "companions" arrested on the charge of Khan's kidnapping. About the abducted Ali Haider, the son of Yusuf Raza Gilani, and Shahbaz, the son of (late) Salmaan Taseer, the TTP interlocutors made it clear that they were not "non-combatant" prisoners, and, therefore, could not be freed.

Explaining, the TTP leaders said that the PPP was not only still engaged in the campaign again the Taliban including attacks on them through Twitter (a thinly veiled reference to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's strong tweets), but had also earlier carried out operations against them.

In addition, the Taliban said, their colleagues confined in Sindh jails were being inhumanly tortured and paraded naked to humiliate them.One participant told that the Taliban nominees made it clear more than once that there would be no violation of the ceasefire announced by them, as they considered its breach against the Shariah. This was music to the ears of the government committee.

Major Aamir informed the TTP negotiators in categorical terms that the government agencies had no women or children, related to any Taliban, in their custody. "The director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) told me that his spy agency has no such people with it, and Fawad Hassan Fawad said that army chief General Raheel Sharif has informed the prime minister that there were no such persons in the custody of the military."

The participant said the Taliban accepted this reply and thus the issue of release of this category of non-combatants came to an end. "Authorities made it clear that being Muslims, it was not possible to hold women and children not involved in terrorism," the TTP leaders were told.

They were also told that they gave the list of their detainees to their intermediaries, led by Maulana Samiul Haq, before the formation of the present official committee and which was delivered to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. They were told had they handed it to the current body, it would have had worked on it.

However, the official delegation said the government committee and the Taliban intermediaries, accompanied by the representatives of the security agencies, would work together and go to different areas to locate the people when the TTP gave the new list.

According to the source, the TTP delegates were also told that the interior minister had worked hard to locate two women who, according to the Taliban, were picked up near Tarnol. This demonstrates the official earnestness, and the search is still continuing.

As the inside story narrated by some participants goes, the inaugural meeting started with recitation from the Holy Quran by Samiul Haq followed by his brief opening remarks.

He stressed that the Pakistan Constitution was Islamic and the fact that the religious leaders (including his father) were also its signatories, reinforces its sanctity.

Samiul Haq was addressed by some Taliban negotiators as "Ustad-e-Mohtram" (respected teacher). He underlined the need for peace and an end to mayhem and chaos, and said the purpose of peace talks was to allow the two sides to hammer out their differences amicably, without use of force.

As he wrapped up his introductory remarks, Major Aamir interceded to say in a lighter vein that though the Constitution was Islamic, it must have something un-Islamic for the mere reason that Pervez Musharraf violated it twice. This caused an instant laughter.

Then, Rustam Shah Mohmand, a member of the official committee, who is known for his straightforwardness, came in and took on the Taliban in a very harsh tone. Addressing them, he said the TTP's violence was not Jihad. "If you want to wage Jihad, you should go to Palestine because there is nothing in Pakistan against which you are fighting.

"You have destroyed the peace and culture of the tribal areas and deprived even the women and children of their homes. The tribal area has never faced such a monumental tragedy that you have caused."

Major Aamir asked him to communicate in Urdu, but Rustam Shah Mohmand replied that he would speak in Pashto as he feels comfortable by using his language.Mohmand's hard-hitting remarks infuriated Qari Shakil, armed with lethal weapons, who told him that he was a fake Mohmand whereas "I am a genuine Mohmand, who can speak on the behalf of the tribe better than you."

Seeing the tension, Major Aamir intervened and dilated on the responsibilities of the host as per the Pashtoon traditions. He told the TTP leaders that Rustam Shah had been defending the Taliban for the last several years on every forum, including TV talk shows by opposing the military operation. This cooled down the atmosphere.

Major Aamir said the official sincerity to make the dialogue process a success was evident from the fact that everybody, who matters in decision making, was sitting in the session. The nominees of the federal government, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa administration (represented through Rustam Shah), the ISI and the prime minister are participating in the talks, which makes it abundantly clear that authorities are unquestionably serious in resolving the issue through peaceful means, he said.

He told them that even Fawad, who was the king of bureaucracy and runs the entire government and who gives appointments after months because of his preoccupation, was also included in the official delegation.

Besides, Major Aamir also said that not only the government, but the children of Sheikhul Quran Maulana Tahir (his father) and Sheikhul Hadith (Samiul Haq's father) were also sitting before the Taliban delegation.

The TTP leaders demanded that a peace zone should be declared for their free movement in it. They told the government side that their delegation had reached the venue of the meeting after two-day travel, including walking on foot.

The government committee, particularly Major Aamir, repeatedly emphasised the sincerity of the prime minister and interior minister. "At one stage, a Taliban delegate remarked to Major Aamir that he has made him a lover of the prime minister," the source said.

Overall, the TTP negotiators openly acknowledged the sincerity of Nawaz Sharif and Chaudhry Nisar for the peace process despite the strong opposition even from their own party and cabinet, the participant said.

He said that whenever Fawad spoke, he dilated on different points impressively, intelligently and prudently. The attitude of all the members of the both sides was positive and constructive, he felt.

The participant said that after their helicopter landed in Thall, they were driven nearly 10 miles by the Frontier Corps (FC). At a certain point, the Taliban took the charge and drove them another 12 miles with armed Taliban fighters standing guard on both sides of the road and rooftops of nearby houses. From this point, the FC came back.

Not only every member of the hardcore Taliban advisory council but also the FC personnel asked a similar question: will peace return and the violence end? Everyone prayed for the success of the process.

The same was the case when a member of the official committee visited the ISI headquarters in Islamabad and met the chief of the agency on Thursday.At one point of the deliberations, a participant narrated a joke to explain that the "shop" (of projection) being run by Maulana Yousaf Shah and Prof Muhammad Ibrahim because of their participation in talk shows, hosted by male and female TV anchorpersons, will close down if the talks succeeded.

The joke involved the travel of a village couple and its children on a horse-driven cart with the woman sitting on the backseat with the mentally unstable brother of the rider and her children and spouse occupying the front seats. This again caused a hearty laughter.Qari Shakil, Azam Tariq, Maulvi Bashir, Maulana Ahmed and Dr Hussain, who are members of the TTP political advisory council, represented the Taliban in the crucial deliberations.

End.

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