Reports: Pakistani Taliban name Imran Kahn on team for peace talks

Feb. 2, 2014 at 11:09 PM
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ISLAMABAD, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan says the Pakistani Taliban should pick their own representatives for the peace talks with the government.

In a statement on the website of his political party Tehreek-i-Insaf, Khan responded to reports the militant group, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or the TTP, had named him along with four others to a committee for the peace talks.

The popular former captain of the Pakistani cricket team said the TTP should select its own Taliban representatives for the peace talks and that his party has full faith in the four members already named. Khan said his party would discuss how it can be of assistance "to further the dialogue."

Khan's party PTI has strongly supported peace talks with the Taliban, although the militant group, which is different from the Taliban in Afghanistan, has sharply escalated its deadly wave of violence in the country.

Geo News reported the Taliban, in response to the peace talks offer by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, formally announced the five-member committee including Khan. Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said besides Khan, the committee would have four clerics -- Maulana Samiul Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah, Professor Muhammad Ibrahim, and Maulana Abdul Aziz.

Last week, Sharif told the National Assembly his government, keen to give peace another chance, would pursue talks with the Taliban and appointed a four-member committee to lead the talks.

The Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks since their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike last November, leaving dozens dead. Earlier peace talk offers have been spurned.

Sharif asked the militants, now led by Mullah Fazlullah, to end their violence and come to the negotiating table, adding his government will not allow the country to be held hostage by them.

Citing their recent attacks in Bannu, Peshawar and Hangu as well as attacks on anti-polio workers, minorities and religious scholars, Sharif said the country stands united with any decision to respond to terrorism with full force.

"Since the other side has shown intent to negotiate, we also wish to give peace yet another chance," he said. "However the acts of terror must stop. Terrorism and talks cannot continue simultaneously."

Sharif's four-member panel for the talks include Sharif's adviser on national affairs, Irfan Siddique, Amir Shah, a retired major and former intelligence official, noted journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai and Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador to Afghanistan.

No date for the start of the talks has been announced.

The prime minister said his government is doing all it can to stop the suspected U.S. drone strikes, but that such strikes cannot be used to justify terror attacks.

Responding to the latest developments, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan Sunday welcomed the announcement of negotiating team by the Taliban, saying it showed both sides wants to "make peace through negotiations and dialogue," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Earlier, Khan's party said it appreciates "the institution of a meaningful structured dialogue for the first time by the federal government." It said the greatest advantage of the dialogue will be that the tribal people, the major stakeholders in peace, "will now isolate the saboteurs of this process and strengthen the potential for peace."

Among conditions for the talks, the party said that immediately after the process begins, there must be a cease-fire from both sides, especially an end to terror attacks during the talks, which must be open and transparent.

The party said the prime minister should also demand that the United States government end its drone attacks.

Separately, the Dawn said the government faces a moral dilemma with regards to the pace talks. The TTP is one of the 60 outfits officially banned and declared as terrorist organizations.

Dawn said while the government insists the negotiations would be within the framework of the Constitution, experts said there is no provision in the Constitution to enter into a dialogue with terrorist groups.

The report said when asked if the government would consider lifting the ban on the TTP prior to any talks, Information Minister Pervez Rasheed said there was no such plan.

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