ISLAMABAD - The former cleric of the Lal Masjid and member of the Taliban negotiating committee, Abdul Aziz has said that he would not participate in the peace dialogue until he is given assurance on enforcement of sharia.
“I will neither meet Taliban nor will join dialogue process” unless given an assurance by government on this count, Aziz told a press conference on Friday. He said he was receiving phone calls from TTP leadership even as he was speaking to the media, but he would not attend their call unless he presents his viewpoint.
The peace dialogue to end the militancy and insurgency formally kicked off Thursday with a meeting between a four-member government peace committee and three-member Taliban designated team. The first round of talks ended with both sides charting a roadmap for future negotiations, with the government side proposing that the peace talk be pursued within the framework of the constitution of Pakistan.
But Abdul Aziz urged the government to remove the condition of holding talks under the constitution, saying that “the people should not be misled into believing that our constitution is Islamic”. There would be no problems if our constitution is the Quran and Sunnah, as the Taliban say they do not accept the existing constitution of the state.
Pakistan’s constitution, he said, should be replaced by the teachings of the Quran and the Holy Prophet (PBUH). “That should be the law in Pakistan and until the committee brings this point on the agenda, I won’t be part of negotiations.”
Abdul Aziz said he would remain part of the TTP’s three-man delegation led by fellow cleric Samiul Haq, unless told otherwise, but would not come to the negotiating table. “I won’t participate in talks until they include a clause about the imposition of Islamic law.“
TTP’s caretaker committee head Qari Shakeel, and their chief negotiator and JUI-S chief Samiul Haq reportedly telephoned Aziz three times while he was speaking to media persons but he did not respond.
Aziz’s move threatens to further undermine the elusive talks. The government and Taliban negotiating teams have already voiced doubts about each other’s authority to broker and implement an eventual peace deal. The government delegation skipped an initial meeting on Tuesday citing confusion over composition of the militants’ team after two members named by TTP denied to represent them.
Meanwhile, TTP has given its negotiators the authority to agree on a ceasefire if the government agrees to halt troop deployment. The authority was delegated to the negotiating body headed by Samiul Haq in a contact between members of the group with Qari Shakeel, who is heading the nine-member monitoring committee of the TTP.
Shakeel communicated to the negotiators that if the government stops the deployment of forces, a ceasefire can be agreed upon. The communication also entailed discussion on Taliban militants in government custody as well as those abducted by the TTP.
The state has 43 senior Taliban leaders and some 800 Taliban members as prisoners, Shakeel said, adding that if the government releases Taliban prisoners, the TTP would release those detained by it for their links with the government and security forces. He said those being held by the Taliban include Professor Ajmal, Ali Haider Gilani and Wapda and FC personnel.
The Taliban’s negotiation team is also likely to visit North Waziristan in a couple of days to covey government message to the militants and learn about their reservations and demands. A private TV channel reported Maulana Yousuf Shah, who is a coordinator of the TTP designated team, as saying that the three-man committee will meet Taliban leaders somewhere in North Waziristan in next few days.
The team will hold its meeting with the nine-member ‘monitoring’ committee of the Taliban which comprises Qari Shakil Khan Haqqani, Umar Khalid Khurasani, Qari Bashir, Azam Tariq, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, Asmatullah Muavia and others. Reportedly, the Taliban negotiation team is also considering Federal Information Minister Pervez Rasheed’s offer for transportation through a helicopter.