Taliban reps playwith media, project their message
ISLAMABAD: Contrary to the previous round, the Taliban committee has taken the lead over the official team in publicly projecting the overall position and demands of its appointing authority, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Earlier, Irfan Siddiqui, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, who was convener of the government body, used to regularly inform the people at large about the talks with the TTP representatives.
However, this displeased some of his colleagues in the committee, who raised their reservations before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif more than once. But it was generally felt that Siddiqui’s public campaigning helped bring the nation on the same page that if talks fail, the option of operation should be resorted to. He introduced too much “transparency and openness” that was not approved by his detractors.
After he opted out of the new set of negotiators, he has remained quiet. He has no brief from the prime minister to publicly speak on the new round of parleys for not being “in the loop.”
“Maj (R) Aamir, a key member of the government committee, who had done an excellent job due to his good connections and contacts with the Taliban, used to strongly oppose too much public exposure of the developments,” a top official told The News. He said that Aamir always argued that the talks would have to be kept under wraps if they were to succeed. His view was that public campaign was creating difficulties for the interlocutors and leading the Taliban to harden their stand.
However, the other members of this body except Aamir had also not lagged behind Siddiqui in publicly expressing views relating to the ongoing talks.
The new committee, headed by Habibullah Khattak and comprising Fawaad Hassan Fawaad and Arbab Arif, is inaccessible for public comments. They all are serving bureaucrats, who will be available only when they will be authorised by their appointing authority to speak.
Rustam Shah Mohmand, a retired bureaucrat/diplomat, who represents the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the forum, faces no such constraint or handicap.
However, while the bureaucrat members are publicly silent, other senior government leaders like Information Minister Senator Pervez Rashid and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif have been dilating on the official stand in relation to the parleys with the Taliban. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is the point man of the prime minister in this process, is also not publicly speaking too much. He is engrossed in the real solid work to produce results through the talks.
On the other hand, Jamaat-e-Islami leader Prof Muhammad Ibrahim, who is a member of the Taliban committee, is easily accessible for comments. Not only this, he often volunteers his reaction on every development and always highlights the Taliban’s stand.
Maulana Yusuf Shah is vigorously doing the same on a daily basis as he is also the spokesman of the Taliban committee. Over and above, Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads the TTP body, is publicizing the TTP views and sharply responds to the remarks made by different federal ministers that he considers harmful for the dialogue process.
Maj Aamir has stated that too much exposure of the previous government committee led to its dissolution. He has now publicly stated what he has been stressing in closed door meetings with the prime minister. He was also joined by some other fellow members of the previous committee. He has said that the Pakistan Army should be in the driving seat to hold talks with the Taliban as the force has been doing in the past. However, the military has stayed away from formally joining the new committee. But official sources indicate that the premier spy agency is extending the necessary assistance to the official forum behind the scenes. So, they say, the role of the army is informal and unofficial but important.
Some officials opine that the process is proceeding slowly, but they don’t realize its highly sensitive and complex nature, and the mistrust that is keeping the Taliban to come out of their hidden abodes for negotiations. This has been the reason for much discussion on fixing the venue of the negotiations.
Even on Saturday, it were the Taliban committee members, who publicly disclosed their deliberations with the government body. Samiul Haq and Yusuf Shah did this job.