ISLAMABAD: The government’s representatives held direct talks with a 13-member team of local Taliban on Wednesday in the volatile tribal region of Orakzai, the first ever meeting since the peace overtures began last month.
While seeking an exchange of non-combatant prisoners, Taliban promised to observe a ceasefire as long as the dialogue process continues. “We will release the captives in our custody if the government shows commitment to free our friends,” sources close to the meeting said while quoting a Taliban leader. Taliban’s further demands included an end to weekly patrolling of the military in North Waziristan.
The government side demanded a permanent ceasefire, release of high profile captives in militants’ custody besides identifying militant outfits involved in acts of terror across the country after the declaration of ceasefire. The government team would meet the interior minister today (Thursday) and would apprise him about the talks. The seven-hour long talks were held in two sessions. During the first round of talks, members of Taliban’s political Shura questioned the credibility of the members of the government team asking them how effectively they can function.
After contacting Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the government team assured their counterparts that they have been given full authority to pursue talks. The government’s team and members of Taliban intermediary committee flew from Peshawar to Tall town in the Hangu District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. From there they were escorted by Taliban to Balandkhel, a remote village in Orakzai on a border with North Waziristan where they met a 13-member team of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), headed by Qari Shakeel, a militant leader from Mohmand Agency.
“The talks were held in Balandkhel village of Orakzai Agency on the border with North Waziristan. The road leading from Tall to Mir Ali in North Waziristan was closed for all kinds of traffic and Taliban fighters were patrolling the area,” well-placed sources said. The security in the region was provided by the Taliban, as the government has no writ in the area. Sources in the Interior Ministry said the committee members called upon Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan after reaching the venue for talks.
Some other prominent militant commanders from Taliban side who were present at a day-long meeting included Sajjad Mohmand, Azam Tariq, Maulvi Noor Said, Maulvi Azmatullah, Maulvi Bashir and Maulvi Zakir. The government’s team included former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand, FATA Additional Chief Secretary Arbab Arif, Ports and Shipping Secretary Habibullah Khattak, Additional Secretary to Prime Minister Fawad Hasan Fawad and Major Amir, an ex-official of spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Taliban intermediaries, Maulana Samiul Haq, head of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (Sami group), Jamaat-e-Islami’s Professor Ibrahim, and JUI-S spokesperson Maulana Yousaf Shah were also present during the meeting.
Soon after departing from the troubled region, Maulana Samiul Haq said the talks continued for seven hours. “The talks were held in a favourable environment. Both sides patiently heard each other’s viewpoint and promised to carry on the dialogue process. The meeting was attended by top Taliban leaders,” Haq said. Meanwhile, locals in Mir Ali and Miranshah towns of North Waziristan fear a military offensive in the area. They said that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and militant outfits of foreign origin left Mir Ali and shifted towards the border with Afghanistan.
“There are two possibilities that militants have vacated their hideouts in Mir Ali. Either they think that negotiations will succeed or they believe that the military will launch an offensive,” said an elderly tribesman, a resident of Mir Ali. The talks initiative was taken this year by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after a spate of terror attacks across Pakistan.
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