In a fresh bid to give Pakistani Taliban another chance to come to the negotiating table, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday set up a four-member committee to oversee the peace parleys, quashing speculation of an imminent military operation against the banned militant group.
“Since the other side (Taliban) has shown intent to negotiate, we also wish to give peace yet another chance,” Sharif said in the National Assembly. He, however, made it clear that “terror attacks should bestopped. Terror and talks cannot go hand in hand together.” Stating that all arms of government are on the same page, Sharif declared that his government had taken all parties on board to curb terrorism.
“All parties’ conference was called to evolve consensus against terrorism. Government has adopted a clear strategy to deal with menace of terrorism.” He announced the setting up of a four-member committee to oversee peace talks, with Irfan Siddiqui, Rahimullah Yusufzai, Rustam Shah Mehmand and Major Amir as its members.
Sharif said that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will coordinate the working of the committee. He said the previous experience of talks was “bitter”. “We invited them to talks so that they could not play with civilian life and property. So that they follow the constitution. Unfortunately, they did not heed our plea and continued to target security forces and civilians.”
Sharif rued that many innocent lives were lost after the All Party Conference’s decision for talks with Taliban, saying “this situation cannot be tolerated any more”. Sharif’s announcement puts to rest speculation that the military would launch an offensive against the Taliban following a wave of bloody attacks.”Peace is not a choice but is our destination. Peace would be established at any cost,” he said, adding, the government is responsible for providing security to the masses.
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“People and institutions of Pakistan are being targeted by the terrorists. Islam condemns killing of innocent persons. Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. Islam values human life without discrimination of religion or creed. Government’s top priority is to curb terrorism,” he said.
Preliminary efforts to reach out to the Taliban ended after a US drone strike killed their then-leader Hakimullah Mehsud in November. The Taliban have since said they will only talk if the Pakistan army withdraws from the country’s restive tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, and puts an end to US drone strikes.
Sharif referred to the recent wave of terrorist strikes in Bannu, Peshawar, Hangu, attacks on anti-polio workers, media, minorities and religious scholars. He said the entire nation, including all state institutions stand united, if the government decides to react to terrorism with full force.
He said the nation had been suffering from terrorism for the last 14 years because of decisions taken by an “unconstitutional” government in an indirect reference to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf’s administration. Responding to his speech, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan said talks should be open and transparent.
Sharif said he also feels the same and it should be time bound but not for too long. He said ensuring security to people is of prime importance to the government. He criticised the Taliban for the recent spate of attacks noting that Maj Gen Sanaullah, an army officer fighting the militants, was assassinated by the banned group and “they accepted responsibility with pride”.
Sharif has long supported talks as the best way to end the years of fighting with the Pakistani Taliban militants in the country. But after a spate of attacks in January, he has been under pressure to take steps to bring the violence under control.