The Pakistani Taliban on Saturday demanded the inclusion of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and hardline cleric Samiul Haq in the committee formed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for holding talks with the banned group.
The ‘shura’ (council) of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which was in session for the past three days, expressed its reservations at the inclusion of former ISI official Major (retired) Muhammad Amir and former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand in the four-member committee, Taliban sources said.
The TTP demanded the government should include Imran Khan, Samiul Haq, a cleric referred to as the “father of the Taliban”, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders Sirajul Haq and Muhammad Ibrahim, Mufti Kifaitullah of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F and Lal Masjid cleric Abdul Aziz in the committee.
The Shura also chose a nine-member panel to represent the Taliban at talks with the government, the sources said. This committee will be headed by Qari Shakeel.
Media reports earlier in the day said Abdul Aziz had refused to take part in negotiations with the TTP. Former ISI official Amir had requested him to be part of the talks.
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The former chief cleric of the radical mosque in Islamabad said he prays for the success of the negotiations but cannot participate in them.
Prime Minister Sharif has set an open mandate for the committee of negotiators to initiate talks with the TTP. He asked the group on Friday to follow suit and form its own negotiating team.
He has maintained that there is only one precondition for talks – no terrorist attacks during negotiations.
Amidst growing speculation about a military offensive against the Taliban following a series of attacks on security forces, Sharif sprang a surprise when he announced the formation of the committee on January 29.
TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid welcomed the offer of peace talks soon after Sharif announced the committee in the National Assembly.
The committee comprises Muhammad Amir, senior journalists Rahimullah Yousufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, and former ambassador to Afghanistan Rustam Shah Mohmand. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan will assist the committee and Sharif will oversee it.