ISLAMABAD: Extending more ‘goodwill’ gestures to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the federal government on Saturday announced to have released another 13 Taliban members terming them “non-combatants”.
The number of TTP men released in the last couple of days now stands at 32.
As many as 19 Taliban captives were earlier released on Thursday.
In return, the government would demand the release of TTP-detained prisoners, a federal minister said on Saturday. Moreover, the next round of peace talks between the government and the Taliban committees is expected in the next two to three days, with the modalities being finalised in this regard. “This is a goodwill gesture on our part,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said, referring to the release of 13 TTP men, while talking to journalists here on Saturday after meeting the representatives of the peace committees from both the sides.
He termed the ongoing peace process a “defining moment” for Pakistan’s future. “We want to touch the real issues in the next level of talks and we expect the same from the other side,” he said, adding that the freed Taliban prisoners included those whose release was demanded by the TTP as well as others.
The meeting of the peace committees with the interior minister saw a high drama after Chaudhry Nisar refused to address the post-meeting press conference merely because Taliban committee member Maulana Samiul Haq addressed the media before him at the very place where the interior minister was to hold the briefing – the Punjab House.
The minister’s briefing was delayed for over two hours. Soon after Haq spoke to reporters, the media representatives were informed that the interior minister would not speak to them, reportedly because he was not happy with Samiul Haq.
But soon after, the reporters were told that Chaudhry Nisar would finally speak to them but the venue of the media briefing had been changed from the main hall to the outer corridor. “Knowing that maulana sahib has already talked to you guys, I did not want to hold the press conference, but I got to know that you people are still here so I changed my mind,” Chaudhry Nisar said before formally starting the media briefing.
Referring to civilian detainees, including Shahbaz Taseer, Ali Haider Gilani and Professor Ajmal, and foreigners detained by the TTP, the interior minister said the government would press for their release. “These are peaceful civilians who have nothing to do with the war,” he stated. “We have shown our sincerity in the peace process by releasing their (TTP) men. Now the other side must reciprocate. Mutual reciprocation would create an environment of trust.”
The peace talks are in the process of confidence-building measures, he said. “The real peace process would begin when the actual demands from both the sides would come out, but let me assure (you) that the government would not take any decision against the interest of Pakistan.”
Dodging a direct response regarding the TTP’s demand for a peace zone, Nisar Ali Khan said, “They wanted a peace zone for easy movement to participate in the peace talks. We are looking for a place where they can move freely for this purpose.”
Earlier, Maulana Samiul Haq told journalists that the time and venue for the peace talks had been finalised and the next round of talks would take place within two to three days. In implied confirmation that the TTP wanted the release of its militants, Haq said, “The peace talks are at an early stage where the exchange of non-combatant militants is discussed. When the talks progress, the real demands of the TTP would be out, like the release of militants. I hope there would be progress on this count as well.”
He said that the Taliban committee would ask the TTP command to consider releasing the civilian detainees in response to the release of non-combatant TTP men.
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