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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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Mertze Dahlin   

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September 11, 2013

Pakistan denies reports of prisoner swap
 ahead of talks with Taliban

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Pakistan Army has denied western media reports of a prisoner swap ahead of talks with the Taliban.

The western media reported that the Pakistan army and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) exchanged prisoners. The report stated that the exchange included six TTP militants and two paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers.

The swap reportedly occurred in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan tribal region. The militants were subsequently taken to neighboring North Waziristan, the country's main Taliban sanctuary.

However, immediately Pakistan Army denied the reports. The Inter-Services Public Relations said neither FC soldiers nor militants had been released.

Despite the denial by Pakistan's military public affairs office, the Taliban commanders provided the names of the militants who were freed and said the two paramilitary soldiers released were kidnapped by the Taliban in southwest Balochistan province in March 2012.

The purported release occurred only days after Pakistan's main political parties endorsed peace negotiations with the Taliban and their allies on September 9 as the best way to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.

APC Decision

Pakistan's political leadership Monday decided to hold peace talks with Pakistani Taliban who have been battling the armed forces in different parts of the northern territories along Pak-Afghan border.

Alluding to the US, which has been unhappy with previous peace deals between Pakistan government and the Taliban, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the participants of an all-party conference: "The decision to hold talks with Taliban is our own. No one should have any objection to that."

The all-party conference was called by Sharif in hopes of reaching national consensus on how to deal with the issue of militancy and terrorism.

The meeting was attended by all major parties of  Pakistan, including the two mainstream religious parties – Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema Islam – which had previously offered to mediate between the government and the militants.

Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Director General of the Inter-Services Intelligence Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam briefed politicians on the military operations in the tribal region.

After day-long deliberations, participants issued a six-point joint communiqué, the first point being the decision by the country's political and military leadership to hold long-awaited peace talks with local Taliban.

The resolution asked the federal government to “initiate the dialogue with all stakeholders forthwith and to take all necessary steps as it may deem fit, including development of an appropriate mechanism and identification of interlocutors”.

Tellingly, there was no mention of the Tehrik-e-Talban Pakistan (TTP) or any other militant group active in the tribal region. Instead, it said: “The process should be as inclusive as possible, with full participation of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other stakeholders. The ‘guiding principles’ for talks should be respect for local customs and traditions, values and religious beliefs and the creation of an environment which brings peace and tranquility to the region.”

It may be pointed out that earlier this year two All Parties Conferences were called, one organized by the Awami National Party (ANP) on Feb 14 and the other by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) on Feb 28. Both the conferences had recommended dialogue with the Taliban fighting against the army.

In his first address to the nation as prime minister, Sharif had promised to hold talks with the Taliban with a view to ending the violence that had claimed over 40,000 lives – including 4,000 security personnel – since 2004 when the army launched operation at the behest of the United States.

The dead also include over 3,000 tribesmen, many of them women and children, killed in US drone strikes during this period.

According to government statistics, the exchequer has incurred a loss of $70 billion since the country joined the US-led war on terror in 2002.

Taliban welcome Pakistan talks offer

 The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an alliance of militant groups that have been battling the Pakistani army in different parts of the northwestern tribal belt for the past decade, has welcomed the new government offer to launch peace talks.

The TTP spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, said Taliban would be willing to enter into "meaningful dialogue" after the government announced its policy on how to proceed.

TTP Political Commission member, Ehsanullah Ehsan said, "Unanimous stance of all the stakeholders in APC Statement is a positive sign but the government will have to take more sincere steps." "The government will also have to convince the army and to decide a road-map for the talks," he was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.

Last May the TTP suspended all types of negotiations with Pakistan government. Ehsanullah Ehsan, in a message to media, said that the decision was taken after the killing of top TTP leader Waliur Rehman in a US drone attack. He said TTP holds Pakistan government responsible for the drone attacks as these attacks are carried out with the consent of Pakistan authorities.

At least six people including Wali-ur-Rehman were killed in the May 30 US drone strike in North Wazirstan Agency. That was the first drone strike since Pakistan’s May 11 general elections.

Drone Attacks

The APC discussed the issue of US drone strikes in Pakistan but smartly avoided any decision by asking the government "to consider the possibility of taking the issue to the United Nation because drone attacks were a clear violation of international laws."

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid told the press on Sept 11 that there was no written agreement with the United States on the drone attacks. However, previous governments might have reached a verbal understanding in this regard. “The present government’s stance on drones is very clear and it has utilized the highest diplomatic channels to condemn the attacks,” he added.

Pakistani officials regularly denounce the attacks as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but are known to have supported them secretly.

The policy of Nawaz Sharif government, on US drone attacks, is no different than the previous governments of President Zardari and President Musharraf.

It is very obvious that like previous governments, the government of Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan's mercenary army is dependent on US largesse.

Pakistan army is busy in war against its own people in the tribal territories of Pakistan. Its operations behind the smoke screen, which displaced thousands of people, are paid by the United States through Coalition Support Fund.

The New York Times reported in December last that  Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan. The United States provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism, the paper pointed out.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.