Chaudhry Nisar says up to 13 more ‘noncombatant’ prisoners will be released to take dialogue forward.
Islamabad on Sunday announced its talks with the Taliban militants to reach an accord would enter a “comprehensive” phase within days, with both sides set to put forward formal agendas, after weeks of negotiations.
The announcement came from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan days after infighting between Taliban groups killed more than 60 people and a ceasefire deadline by the militants expired Saturday. The Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), which announced a ceasefire last month and then extended it for six more days on April 6, has not announced any further extension, but there have been no attacks on the ground since.
“Formal comprehensive talks will start from the next meeting which will hopefully take place within the next couple of days,” Khan told reporters in Islamabad. “You will get to know the main agenda both from the government side and the other side in the next meeting. The next meeting will come up with the comprehensive agenda from both the sides,” he said.
He said that the government is in the process of releasing more than 30 noncombatant Taliban prisoners in a bid to take the dialogue process forward. “We will release up to 13 more prisoners. After their release, the number of total freed noncombatant prisoners will go up to more than 30,” Khan said.
The government began negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) through intermediaries in February to try to end the extremists’ bloody seven-year insurgency. The umbrella militant group had demanded the release of what they called “noncombatant” prisoners and the establishment of a “peace zone” where security forces would not be present.
In March the Taliban handed over a list of 300 people including women, children, and old men, seeking their release. Last week, the government handed over 19 tribesmen based in South Waziristan, calling them “noncombatant Taliban prisoners.”
Khan also suggested that the talks should be held in Peshawar, capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, which has been heavily hit by attacks from the TTP, but the militants are yet to announce their willingness for this. The earlier meetings for direct talks with TTP leaders have taken place at undisclosed locations in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan where the Taliban militants have their hold.
Khan said that the government has also taken up the issue of the release of a senior academic—Professor Mohammad Ajmal—as well the sons of slain former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and other abductees in return for its concessions to TTP demands.
He, however, did not make any predictions about the possible outcome of the talks. “If we are moving along the process of peace through the dialogue, the whole process will continue, and God forbid if it fails, I don’t have to announce it. You will all know,” he added.