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Kabul to hold talks with Pakistani Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Pakistan on Saturday sent another tribal Jirga to Afghanistan apparently to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban militants based in the war-torn country.

A 12-member Jirga left for Kabul only a day after the Pakistani Ulema (religious scholars) returned from Afghanistan. The religious leaders had gone to Kabul on July 25 and came back on July 29. Pakistan’s prominent religious figure, Mufti Mohammad Taqi Usmani, headed the Ulema delegation.

Besides meeting with top leaders of the Afghan Taliban, including Afghanistan’s acting prime minister Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund, the religious leaders also held two meetings with the Pakistani Taliban. The first meeting was very brief in which the two sides introduced themselves and then concluded soon after Mufti Taqi Usmani offered Dua for the success of the peace process.

It was Maulana Mohammad Tayyab, Ameer of Ishaat-ud-Tauheed wa Sunnah, who requested Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund during the meeting to help them arrange another session with the Pakistani Taliban. Mullah Hasan and interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani then organised the second meeting in which the two sides openly discussed issues pertaining to the peace process. Now when the Ulema has returned, the tribal elders are there to resume the peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan this time sent a small Jirga of 12 people as a 53-member tribal Jirga had gone to Kabul last time in June this year. And only 20 of them took part in talks with the militant leaders.

Former Senator and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rahman group leader from South Waziristan led the previous Jirga, and upon their return, they claimed to have achieved 90 per cent of the targets in the peace process with the outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership. Their major success was no doubt convincing the TTP leadership to prolong the ceasefire for an indefinite time, particularly till the time the peace process was in progress.

Maulana Saleh Shah, who had led the Jirga, had a long history of facilitating and holding peace negotiations between the Pakistani government and Taliban militants in the past. Afghanistan’s acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the erstwhile Haqqani Network, has been playing a crucial role in the peace process. According to official sources, most of the jirga members had held talks with the TTP leadership in June and would resume the same peace process.

The Taliban, sources said, had welcomed the Jirga members and vowed to help them restore peace in Pakistan, but they refused to compromise on some of their demands. The Taliban wanted the government to restore the previous status of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and were adamant to return to Pakistan along with their arms. Pakistan in return had offered to free hundreds of Taliban prisoners from jails and take back criminal cases against them in the courts. Also, Pakistan wanted the Taliban to dismantle its network and disassociate its links with other militant and terrorist organisations.

According to the TTP sources, they welcomed the peace process and sincerely participated in the talks. But they felt that sending jirgas with no powers was merely a futile exercise. “We had seen progress whenever military officials themselves held talks with us as they have the power of making decisions. I must say it is a waste of time and resources when Jirgas are sent to us,” one TTP leader, privy to the peace process, told The News. Pleading anonymity, he said the Jirgas were sent to make appeals to the Taliban to ease their conditions, which he claimed was almost impossible.

Meanwhile, Taliban sources also said that one of their members, Maulana Gul Mohammad, during a meeting with the Pakistani religious leaders on Friday had termed their attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar and killing innocent students and their teachers as their biggest mistake.

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