‘Unilateral’ release of 19 Taliban irks army

* Concern conveyed as civil, military leadership meets to discuss future roadmap regarding peace talks with Taliban
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ISLAMABAD: The release of 19 ‘non-combatant but criminal’ members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) may draw fault lines between the relations of Pakistan’s military establishment and the ruling civilian government vis-à-vis peace dialogue with the TTP.
The matter, security insiders said, was taken up at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday to review security situation in the country that was attended by Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and PM’s Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi. 
The military command is said to have conveyed to the PM its reservations regarding the release of the TTP men. A brief PM Secretariat statement said that matters relating to national security and national importance were discussed in the meeting. In this reported backdrop, a meeting of the government and Taliban committees with the interior minister scheduled for Friday was postponed. The meeting has been scheduled for today (Saturday), in which future roadmap regarding the peace talks is to be chalked out.
Apparently, the decision to release the TTP members has been taken without assuring, in return, the release of the civilians and the security men the TTP has detained.
In a move to appease the TTP, apparently without striking a befitting bargain, the government on Thursday had announced having released 19 TTP men, saying they were not militants but were involved in ‘petty’ crimes. Reportedly, this has not gone well with Pakistan’s military command that is said to be kept out of the loop before taking this decision.
“Classifying the TTP men as ‘combatants’ and ‘non-combatants’ is too evasive a phenomenon. It’s like differentiating between a murderer and a gangster. They are the two sides of the same coin, the one and the same thing,” an intelligence official involved with counter-terrorism operations told Daily Times on Friday.
Taking such an important decision without the input of the security apparatus serves the Taliban purpose; to negotiate with the government from an upper hand, he said. 
Referring to the release of 19 militants, the official pointed out that the decision on this count was made unilaterally without ensuring the release of the TTP-detained civilians and security personnel. 
Hailing from North Waziristan Agency (NWA), a member of the National Assembly (MNA) from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Nazir Khan Wazir, on the other hand supported this move, asking the TTP to reciprocate the ‘goodwill’ gesture by releasing the Pakistani and foreign captives. “This is a goodwill gesture from us. Now, it’s for them to reciprocate so that peace talks progress further,” he told this scribe. 
Brigadier (r) Mahmood Shah, the former secretary (home and tribal affairs) in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), said the TTP men who were being classified as non-combatants were those who did not have a direct hand in terror activities but were very much linked to terrorism. “Those who execute the terror attacks are not alone and they cannot alone be termed as terrorists. All those who are aiders, abetters, colluders or the helpers of the terrorists are also the same. The persons mistaken to be non-militants are those who were involved in indirect operations related to terrorism, such as granting refuge to terrorists, transporting weapons and carrying out related activities that were meant to help the terrorists. Therefore, the perpetrators cannot be termed as non-combatants.”

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