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Consultations with army over new team for talks

By Baqir Sajjad Syed 2014-03-12
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif held consultations with the army on Tuesday over the composition of a new government team for holding direct talks with the Taliban and the overall direction of the process.

`Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif chaired a high-level meeting to review the overall security situation,` the Prime Minister`s Office said about the consultative session.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Defence Minister Khwaja Asif, Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, Chief of General Staff Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem, ISI DG Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam and Special Assistant to Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi attended the meeting.

The discussions preceded the announcement that a new team of government negotiators would be constituted.

The government side had earlier announced that thenew team would hold talks directly with the militant leadership, but there are indications that the Taliban would maintain their team comprising Maulana Samiul Haq, Prof Mohammad Ibrahim and Yousuf Shah.

The names of members of the government team have not been revealed yet except for that of PTI nominee. The PTI has named Gulzar Khan, a member of the provincial assembly and former bureaucrat, as representative of the Khyber Pakhtunkhawa government.

The government had desired to include the army in the second stage of negotiations, but the military top brass refused a formal role.

But the Khakis still retain strong influence over the process as is evident from government`s consultations over the composition of the new team.

This was not the first consultation meeting between the army and the government over the formation of the new team. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who visited General Headquartersover the weekend for discussions on defence budget, had also discussed the matter.

According to a source, the meeting at the Prime Minister`s House was a follow-up to the Saturday meeting during which the military side conveyed its point of view through Mr Dar.

In addition to its observations on the proposed members of the committee, the army communicated to the government its `redlines` for the dialogue.

The `redlines`, it is said, emphasises that negotiations should be held within the parameters of the constitution and foreign fighters should be expelled from tribal areas.

Although unconfirmed the vibes coming from the government suggest that it is ready to show flexibility on the Taliban`s demand for the release of captives. But the government will try to negotlate the criteria for those who could benefit from it.

The army is also insisting on a specified timeframe for the dialogue, instead of keeping it an open-ended affair.