The Pakistan-Taliban talks continue their uneven course with both sides playing coy. The recent release of some prisoners has led to contradictory statements. Were they Taliban members, innocent tribals or petty criminals? The answer depends on who is making the statement.
Thursday April 03, 2014, 09:38 DST
When the Political Agent of South Waziristan, Islam Zeb told Reuters that ”South Waziristan's political administration released 16 men on April 1,” was it an April Fool’s joke?
“They are not major [Taliban] commanders. They are innocent tribals who were arrested during different search operations in South Waziristan in the last two to three years.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office, however, quickly denied any such release of prisoners. “There is no truth in the reports. The political agent has only released a few petty criminals,” the statement said today.
There was speculation in political circles that members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had been released in order to boost prospects for peace talks with the outlawed group.
“The reports are incorrect. The government has neither released any Taliban prisoners nor has approval been given for any such measure,” said a spokesman for the Prime Minister office in Islamabad.
So beyond the April fool joke, what is the truth? Both the prime minister’s spokesman and South Waziristan’s political agent agree that some people were released.
The political agent says they were “innocent tribals” rounded up in the frequent search operations. The PM’s spokesman calls them “petty criminals.” If so, why would it be necessary to release them, petty or not?
The Pakistan government has been holding talks with the TTP through intermediaries since February but progress has been uneven. There is a small but powerful lobby in the country—the secular armchair revolutionaries that discuss politics in their plush drawing rooms—that do not want any talks with the Taliban.
They demand military action in order to crush the Taliban. The military has been involved in such operations since 2004 but with little success.
Instead, the problem of terrorism has escalated; suicide and car bombings have increased and Pakistan has suffered nearly 50,000 deaths, of whom more than 15,000 are military personnel.
The tribal belt of Pakistan has become unstable opening more opportunities for intelligence agencies of such countries as India, Afghanistan, the US, Israel and Britain to instigate trouble in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s economy has suffered more than $100 billion in losses as a result of the so-called war on terror.
Peace talks were proposed on numerous occasions but immediately, the Americans launched drone strikes killing leading Taliban commanders thereby sabotaging the talks.
This time, the Taliban announced the names of intermediaries to mediate on their behalf.
On March 1, the TTP announced a one-month ceasefire and it has held so far but the group has also put forward a list of demands that have not been fulfilled by the government.
One of their demands includes releasing 800 prisoners the TTP describes as innocent family members rounded up in security sweeps.
The TTP has also called for withdrawing the army from parts of South and North Waziristan that borders Afghanistan. The reason is that the TTP would like to hold direct talks with the government but in a secure environment.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani Foreign Office announced today that it was beefing up security along the border with Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections due on April 5. The Afghan Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections and Pakistan wants to pre-empt any accusations—that are routinely hurled by the Kabul regime—that Pakistan is encouraging instability in Afghanistan.