LAHORE - (ARSHAD BHATTI/Sajid Zia) - Chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Fazlur Rahman says the 70-member jirga he had established after a year-long effort is in a better position to hold talks with the Taliban.
Talking to media men at a reception organised in his honour on Thursday, Fazl said he had discussed the idea with the prime minister and Punjab chief minister and they were thinking of involving the jirga into the mechanism being devised for negotiations with the Taliban. He said, “(His) JUI-F will not become part of the peace talks if the government will not involve the tribal jirga in the process. Nevertheless, we will not create any hindrance in the negotiations.”
The jirga members, the JUI-F chief insisted, were in a better position to hold talks with the Taliban they belonged to the same culture as the Taliban and both sides understand well tribal traditions. He said his party did not seek major role in peace talks for itself, rather we says this role should be given to the jirga. He said the Taliban had expressed their confidence in the jirga within 24 hours of its forming.
Regarding the existence of so many groups of Taliban, he said this was an ambiguous argument as all groups of Taliban, operating with different names, were under the umbrella of one organisation. So, he said, the issue that which group would be the part of negotiations, did not matter. To a query, he said, “I cannot say it formally whether PM and CM had agreed to his suggestions or not. But, after my statement that JUI-F will not be part of talks if jirga will not be given main role, the government is thinking to involve the jirga. However, the jirga members have not been contacted by the government so far.”
Fazl hinted that possibly the negotiation process was in stage two or three on diplomatic scale. He said all political parties were on the same page and unanimous on holding talks with militants however some secular and liberal elements wanted to sabotage the peace process.
The JUI-F chief said it was a wrong perception that all religious mined people were extremists. He said if some people demanded implementation of Islam on gun point, it did not mean that all religious forces were extremists. He said Swat operation was launched on the argument that militants did not acknowledge constitution of Pakistan but the Swat peace agreement too was against the constitution.
Earlier, Fazl called on Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif here on Thursday and discussed matters of mutual interest, national issues and overall political situation in the country. Well-informed sources say they discussed matters relating to talks with Taliban for which positive signals have come forth from the two sides. The two leaders also focused on the need of distinguishing the militants willing to talk from those who may try to sabotage the process. The leaders appreciated the appeal given by ulema and religious scholars to the Taliban for a truce and the positive response it attracted from the other side. However, they were not pleased with the recently carried out terrorist attacks in Khyber PK.
Sources said the chief minster pointed out the unanimous point of view presented for peace in the country by all political parties that have representation in the parliament and expressed the resolve for bringing peace to the country, as it had become indispensable for state survival and for running the national economy. However, he said that every step in this regard will be taken in consultation with others, said the sources.
They further said JUI-F chief agreed to support every positive steps of the government for peace and that he would provide assistance in this behalf. Fazl was of the strong view that the means of negotiations can address and resolve all problems and stressed the government to work out a roadmap so that peace process moves forward.
Sources close to JUI-F said the meeting also touched up the matter of involving the tribal jirga in the peace process as it had big clout on Taliban for their being from the same tribes. They said the jirga may act as facilitator as well as guarantor to the outcome of the peace talks with Taliban. They said the jirga, which may be convened through the good offices of JUI-F, would also serve the purpose of evolving a mechanism for interaction between government and the Taliban in accordance with the traditional ways.
The sources said the precondition set by Taliban to first get the US drone attacks stopped before embarking on the talks, also came under discussion and Fazl believed that Taliban understood concerns and limitations of the government on drone attacks but they were willing to take forward the peace process through talks by not allowing any impediment to come in the way.