ISLAMABAD/LONDON - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday told British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London that the dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban has been started as they cannot bear any more loss of precious lives. The PM also expressed the hope the talks will progress within the constitutional framework of Pakistan.
Federal Interior Minister Ch Nisar Ali Khan separately said in Islamabad that the broader contours of the agenda of negotiations with the Taliban had been drawn and the dialogue process set in motion. He said the details of the talks’ agenda would be finalised in consultation with the political parties and the representatives of various Taliban factions.
Briefing the heads of parliamentary parties at the Speaker’s Chamber in the Parliament building on Thursday, Nisar said around 37 Taliban groups were operating in the country while their unofficial number was said to be 57. He informed the MPs that the strategy of dialogue was in place and the government was in contact with the Taliban, though he did not mention with which particular groups the government was in contact.
In London, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the issues of mutual interest, according to a press release issued by Pakistan’s High Commission there. Nawaz apprised Clegg on the dialogue with Taliban, relations with India, energy situation and economic reforms agenda of his government, the statement said.
PM Nawaz told Clegg his government could not wait and see the innocent people and members of law-enforcement agencies being killed in the streets of Pakistan. He said Pakistan was improving capacity of its counter-terrorism forces and intelligence agencies to root out extremism and terrorism. But this was one of the various measures being taken to deal with the problem, he added. He also briefed the British deputy prime minister on the recently promulgated Protection of Pakistan Ordinance and said that it was specifically prepared to deal with those elements who were waging a war against the people and the state of Pakistan.
On Pakistan-India relations, the prime minister said that he had made sincere efforts to resolve all outstanding issues with India. “We have made India bashing a non-issue in Pakistan but unfortunately Indian politicians are still engaged in unwarranted Pakistan bashing,” he added.
Clegg told Nawaz that he and his government were full of admiration for his proactive approach of reaching out to India before and after elections.
On the reduction of energy subsidy, PM Nawaz said some segments of society were unhappy with partial withdrawal of subsidy on electricity but he insisted the direction of the present government was correct. He said during the next 3 to 4 years, new energy projects would start generating several thousand mega watts of electricity which would significantly reduce the demand-supply gap and bring down the tariff.
The British deputy prime minister appreciated recently introduced economic reforms agenda by the Pakistan government. He also assured that the UK would fully support Pakistan’s case for GSP Plus in the EU market. PM Nawaz appreciated UK’s support in various sectors, especially education, in Pakistan. Both the sides agreed to further solidify bilateral relations.
On the other hand, Interior Minister Ch Nisar, in his briefing, took the MPs into confidence on the progress so far in the dialogue with Taliban and informed them that now the government was finalising the nitty-gritty of the parleys and the modus operandi. He admitted that the dialogue initiative was hampered for some time due to the stepped-up terrorist attacks in the country, particularly the martyrdom of a KPK minister, a Major General and others in terrorist attacks, including the Church blast, that almost derailed the whole exercise.
Prominent among those who attended the briefing were Opposition Leader Syed Khurshid Shah, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Dr Farooq Sattar, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao, Abdul Ghafoor Haidri, Tariq Ullah Khan, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad and Ijazul Haq.
The minister said that the main purpose of the briefing was to take all the parliamentary parties, particularly those sitting on the opposition benches, into confidence on the issue and to ensure that the political elite of the country across the national spectrum were on the same page on the issue.
Sources aware of the minutes of the meeting informed The Nation that the participants of the briefing once again put their weight behind the government in making the dialogue process a success and it was decided that the interior minister would keep in touch with the political leadership and would brief them on the dialogue progress.
Talking to the media after the meeting, Leader of the Opposition, Syed Khurshid Shah said that the opposition parties had once again extended complete support to the government in holding talks with Taliban. He said they would soon be meeting with the government people to reiterate their support in this regard and would like to have updates on the process.
PTI lawmaker Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that the PTI from the very first day was asserting to start the dialogue. He reiterated his party’s demand that the negotiation process with Taliban should be given the status of the formal dialogue. He said the meeting was a follow-up to the All Parties’ Conference. By attending the briefing and extending support to the government they wanted to give the message that all political parties in the country were on the same page regarding Taliban talks, he added.
MQM Parliamentary Leader Dr Farooq Sattar said that his party was confident that the government’s efforts regarding Taliban talks would bear fruit. Ijazul Haq said that the armed forces were also supportive to the dialogues, adding that the decision to take into loop all the opposition parties was a good sign.
AFP adds: Officials in Islamabad clarified that no direct contact has yet been made with the militants. “The formal talks are yet to take place but the process of dialogue has been started,” a senior official from the interior ministry told AFP. “We expect that the formal dialogue with Taliban will also take place very soon.”
An official at the Prime Minister’s office said Sharif had stressed to the British that Pakistan wanted any dialogue to take place within the country’s constitution.
The Taliban could not immediately be reached for comment.