Taliban form nine-member committee for ‘peace’ talks with Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban have welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s latest offer of peace talks, but demanded that the four-member government committee set up to negotiate potential truce terms be expanded.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan made the announcement Saturday night after the conclusion of their council meeting.
On Jan. 30, Sharif named journalists Irfan Siddiqui and Rahimullah Yusufzai, a former Intelligence Bureau official, and a former Pakistani ambassador who is now a member of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf as members of the government’s special committee.
The Taliban now want five other members added to this committee to match the strength of its own nine-member committee.
The names proposed by the Taliban to represent the government are: Imran Khan, chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf who hailed Sharif’s decision for the talks; ‘Father of the Taliban’ Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, who recently criticized Sharif of not being serious about holding talks; Ibrahim Khan of Jamaat-e-Islami, which called slain Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud a martyr; Mufti Kifayatullah of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl); and Maulana Abdul Aziz, who heads the Al Qaeda-affiliated Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
Three of the five people nominated by the Taliban have agreed to join the government committee if Islamabad accepts the Taliban’s suggestion. “I will continue to be part of the committee if the government shows sincerity in looking into [the Taliban’s] demands,” said Aziz. “And, of course, the major demand is enforcement of Shariah in the country.” The JUIF wants to think over the nomination of Kifayatullah, while the PTI appears not to want its chief on the committee.
The Taliban “should select their own Taliban representatives 4 peace talks,” PTI chief Khan posted on Twitter. “We have full faith in the 4-member committee announced by the govt. However we will discuss how PTI can be of further assistance to further the dialogue in our Core Committee meeting on Monday.”
The Taliban side will be led by Qari Shakeel of Mohmand agency, who heads the Pakistani Taliban’s “political wing.” Others on the nine-member Taliban team include Ihsanullah Ihsan, Shahidullah Shahid, and Asmatullah Muawiya.
The Taliban have said they are ready for “meaningful negotiations” provided the government is “serious.” They have also been demanding the release of prisoners, withdrawal of the Army from the restive tribal areas, and an end to U.S. drone strikes.
Experts expressed doubt that much would come from the establishment of the two committees, suggesting the Taliban were biding their time and not committed to the talks. “The strategy is to avoid military action until the end of 2014 when international troops withdraw from Afghanistan,” said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. “This will help them join hands with the Afghan Taliban and focus full attention on securing control of the tribal regions.”
Update: On Sunday, the Taliban issued an email statement to the media clarifying that it wants a fresh five-member non-Taliban committee to liaise on their behalf with the government. The Taliban are not seeking an expansion of the existing four-member government committee.