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ISLAMABAD: The top military and intelligence officials, on Monday, assured the parliamentarians that peace talks were only held with the splinter groups of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who are ready to lay down their arms and accept the constitution of Pakistan, as Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry revealed that a complete ceasefire has been agreed with the TTP.

The in-camera meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, chaired by National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser in the Parliament House, was given a comprehensive briefing on the national security and the latest situation in Afghanistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed, while Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also responded to queries by the parliamentarians, both from the treasury and the opposition benches, informed sources said.

In a video statement, Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry said that dialogue with the banned TTP is under way under the Constitution of Pakistan and a complete ceasefire has been agreed that would be extended upon further progress.

“A complete ceasefire has been agreed as per the agreement. Keeping in view the progress, the ceasefire will be extended,” the minister said, adding that no government can undertake any negotiations beyond the limits of the Constitution and the law.

He said sovereignty of the state, security, peace in the affected areas, and social and economic stability will be kept in view during the talks. He said that the affected people of these areas will never be ignored and the locals will be taken into confidence about the talks.

“It is a welcoming sign that the affected areas of the country are now heading towards a complete peace after a long time,” he said, adding that the negotiations with the banned TTP started in line with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement in an interview last month. He further stated that the Taliban interim government has played a key role in the talks.

However, sources privy to the in-camera session of the parliamentary committee on national security, maintained that opposition members, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) secretary-general Ahsan Iqbal and Awami National Party (ANP) leader Ameer Haider Khan Hoti raised questions over the ongoing peace talks with the banned TTP, and opposed the dialogue with any militant group that do not recognise the Constitution.

Ceasefire agreed between govt, TTP: Fawad Chaudhry

They said that Bilawal opposed the peace talks with militant organizations. His views were endorsed by the PML-N and the ANP, saying that no peace talks can be held with militant organisations not ready to lay down their arms and opposed to the Constitution of Pakistan.

The parliamentarians were; however, informed that out of the 12 splinter groups of the banned TTP, dialogue is only under way with those ready to renounce violence and accept the Constitution. They were further informed there would be no talks with the proscribed militant outfit – Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) – led by Omar Khalid Khorasani, which has also been sanctioned by the UN Security Council in July 2017.

The sources further stated that some opposition members raised questions about the reported new arrangements with the United States to continue cooperation in Afghanistan, similar to the already existing understanding under which Islamabad is extending cooperation to Washington through providing air lines of communication (ALOC) and ground lines of communication (GLOC).

To the queries, the parliamentarians were told that any such understanding with the US would now be a trilateral, involving the US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The sources further stated that the members also raised questions about the recent agreement with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the government decision to lift the ban over it in the wake of the violent protests in parts of Punjab as the opposition has been demanding the government to present details of the agreement in the parliament.

In this context, sources said that MQM-P’s leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui demanded review in the government decision about the MQM, saying: “If a peace agreement can be reached with the TLP by changing its banned status, then what’s the fault of the MQM.”

Talking to reporters, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the briefing was aimed at taking the opposition into confidence on Pakistan’s approach in dealing with the situation in Afghanistan and the overall national security environment.

He said that the opposition was taken into confidence and the interaction took place in a “good environment in which each other’s opinion was heard and understood.”

Govt in talks with some TTP groups for reconciliation: PM Imran

In his talk with reporters, Opposition Leader Shehbaz Sharif said a comprehensive presentation was given to the committee, adding that they got “satisfactory” answers to their queries.

However, to repeated questions as to whether they were presented the details of the recent agreement reached with the TLP and the ongoing talks with the TTP, Shehbaz declined to comment, saying that it was an in-camera briefing.

JUI-F leader Asad Mahmood said that it was unfortunate that Prime Minister Imran Khan did not turn up to the important briefing, adding that they had various concerns to be shared with the premier. “But, unfortunately, like the past he [the PM] was again missing from the important briefing,” he added.

A press release, issued by the National Assembly Secretariat, stated that the national parliamentary and political leadership, members of the National Assembly and Senate, provincial leadership, the prime minister of AJ&K, and the military leadership participated in the meeting.

It stated that the participants were comprehensively briefed about matters pertaining to national security, foreign affairs, internal and external challenges faced by country. They were also briefed about regional and political challenges especially the situation in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, and Afghanistan.

“It was outlined that Pakistan desires peoples’ representatives’ government in Afghanistan and Pakistan would continue all-out support for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” according to the statement.

Furthermore, it was briefed that Pakistan played a responsible and positive role for peace in Afghanistan, it stated, adding that it was further apprised that Pakistan believes that peace in Afghanistan would pave the way for regional peace and development.

It stated that the participants were further informed that Pakistan is making every effort to ensure that the current situation does not give rise to another humanitarian and economic crisis which would add to the plight of the people and in this regard, Pakistan is in constant touch with the international community.

“It was also hoped that the territory of Afghanistan would not be used against Pakistan,” it stated, adding that the meeting was also apprised about the border control system on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Talks with TTP, Afghan situation: Military officials to brief MPs on Monday

“Parliamentary and political leadership expressed satisfaction about Pakistan strategy to tackle internal and external challenges and expressed good wishes for prosperity, development, and progress of Afghanistan. They also said that such meetings paved way for harmony and unanimity of views on national issues, according to the statement.

It further stated that a question and answer session was held at the end of the briefing, in which the members of the committee presented their recommendations.

Those who also attended the meeting included Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjarani, opposition leaders in the National Assembly and the Senate Shehbaz Sharif and Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, federal ministers including Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry, Chaudhry Tariq Bashir Cheema, Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, Pervez Khattak, Asad Umar, Shafqat Mahmood, Shirin Mazari, Fehmida Mirza, Syed Aminul Haq; MQM-P leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, ANP’s Amir Haider Khan Hoti, PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Khawaja Asif, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Ahsan Iqbal; PPP’s Raja Pervez Ashraf, Hina Rabbani Khar, Syed Naveed Qamar; MNA Mohsin Dawar; leader of the house in the Senate Shehzad Wasim, senators including Mian Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman, Azam Nazir Tarar, Anwarul Haq Kakar, Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, Syed Faisal Ali Subzawari, Mohammad Tahir Bizenjo, Hidayatullah Khan, Mohammad Shafiq Tareen, Kamil Ali Agha, Mushtaq Ahmed, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, Mohammad Qasim, and Dilawar Khan; Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Security Dr Moeed Yousaf, and Advisor to the Prime Minister on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan.

The meeting was attended by the chief ministers of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the prime minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, besides DG ISPR Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar, and other senior military officers.

Strict security arrangements were in place during the meeting and media’s entry was also restricted into the Parliament House.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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