LAHORE - At the maiden meeting of the committees set up by the government and the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan the TTP nominees did not raise the issue of sharia when the other side proposed that the talks would be held within the framework of the Constitution.
The TTP delegation was also told that whatever agreement is reached as a result of the talks would be applicable only to the insurgency-hit areas, not the entire country.
The TTP committee sought a few clarifications concerning the powers of the government body and its competence to implement the agreement to be reached by the two sides, but did not say that talks would not be acceptable unless they were held under the Quran and Sunnah.
The omission of this important point was more conspicuous as only a day ‘before’ the talks Maulana Samiul Haq had told reporters that peace would not be possible unless sharia was enforced. Another nominee of the Taliban, Maulana Abdul Aziz, had called for disbandment of the existing network of ‘secular’ courts. This point was also not taken up in the inaugural session.
What the government and TTP committees said after the talks gave an impression that the gap between the two sides was not very wide and that whatever differences on other issues would be easily resolved through negotiations.
The talks were held in such a cordial atmosphere that the coordinator of the government committee, Irfan Siddiqui, said at a joint news conference after the three-hour session that it appeared as if both sides were members of the same committee and had a common destination.
However, the situation started changing when only a day later Maulana Abdul Aziz said that insistence on talks under the Constitution would lead to a deadlock. The same day, TTP Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement that talks would be held under the Quran and Sunnah as no other law is acceptable to the Taliban. The Taliban, he emphasised, would not have waged a war if any other law was acceptable to them.
The TTP committee members held talks with the Taliban leaders in Waziristan on Saturday and Sunday. A private TV channel claimed that the Taliban have agreed ‘not’ to raise the sharia issue in talks with the government. Withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas, release of prisoners and compensation to the affected families are said to be major three demands to be made by the Taliban in the future parleys.
Although nothing can be said with certainty about the final outcome of the contacts, if the Taliban leaders stuck to what was agreed upon by the two committees at their first meeting in Islamabad on Thursday, it will certainly augur well for peace in the country. But any attempt to bring the government to knees through unreasonable demands may derail the peace process.
Analysts say failure of the talks at any stage will be disastrous. In that case, the government will have to use the state power to crush insurgents and militants. And militants will also retaliate by whatever means available to them. As a result, there will be more killings in the times ahead.
In Pakistan, Islam is the state religion and there is a provision in the Constitution according to which no law repugnant to Quran and Sunnah can be enacted by parliament. And if there is already any such law in existence, the bicameral legislature is bound to strike it down. The Council of Islamic Ideology and the Federal Shariat Court can examine any law and decide if it is repugnant to Islam.
By employing this constitutional course, the Taliban or anybody else can get done any number of amendments to the basic law as are needed.
The Taliban leaders should not forget that they can be held responsible for killing thousands of innocent people through suicide blasts. Their spokesmen have been claiming responsibility for the attacks, and under the Islamic law, the victim families can call for Qisas or Diyet.
TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah and spokesman Shahidullah Shahid have been nominated in a case of the murder of Karachi CID SP Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam.
It is the Islamic as well as legal obligation of the government to arrest both these leaders, no matter what the fate of talks. This will be a test of the government’s commitment to enforcing the sharia in its entirety. And after so ‘fiercely’ demanding the Islamic system in the country, there will be no justification for the Taliban leaders to stay in hideouts and not surrender to the law.
Political leaders who support the Taliban and their demand for enforcement of sharia despite their involvement in suicide blasts are also duty-bound to persuade the TTP leaders to submit themselves to law.