ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed has said on Monday that peace negotiations between the government and the Pakistani Taliban had not yet begun and his ministry was not involved in the talks.
The Pakistani Taliban, fighting to overthrow the government and install their own brand of Shariah, are an umbrella of militant groups called the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has broken into many divisions.
In an interview with a Turkish broadcaster last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan said some groups within the militant conglomerate were willing to negotiate for peace, and his government would forgive them once they laid down arms.
It was not clear from the interview who was leading the talks from the Pakistani side, what the TTP’s demands were, and how soon a breakthrough was expected.
“[Talks] haven’t begun yet. The ministry of Interior has no role in this. If the Taliban are holding any negotiations, then it is not in my notice,” Ahmed said at a press conference in Islamabad. “What outcome is reached in this regard, there’s nothing final yet.”
Ahmed said such decisions were made at the “highest level” and not by the ministry of interior. He, however, reiterated that talks could only be held with those who would surrender arms and accept the constitution of Pakistan.
Last month, Pakistani President Dr. Arif Alvi and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in separate statements, announced that the government was willing to offer a conditional amnesty to the TTP.
Pakistan’s northwestern tribal districts bordering Afghanistan long served as a headquarters for local and foreign militants, but the military has launched several operations in the last decade and a half to flush them out.
The TTP, which is aligned with the Afghan Taliban but acts independently, appears to have regained ground and operability since the fall of Kabul in mid-August, with attacks picking up in recent weeks, particularly in the northwestern and southwestern parts of Pakistan. Most of the assaults have been directed at military and paramilitary forces.
Asked why the TTP was attacking Pakistani security forces while negotiating with the government to secure a settlement, PM Khan told the Turkish broadcaster last week: “I think it was just a spate of attacks, but we are talking. [However,] we might not reach some sort of a conclusion.”
“I do not believe in military solutions,” he added. “I always believe as a politician that political dialogue is the way ahead.”
Online visa service for Afghans
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed also announced the launch of an online visa service for Afghanistan in three weeks, which would replace the visa-on-arrival system.
He further said 20,000 people from Afghanistan had entered Pakistan since August 15 and 6,000 had left for the former.
The minister added Integrated Border Management Systems had been installed at 16 terminals at the Chaman border and the system would later be installed at five more terminals.
Air Patrolling Unit in Islamabad
Sheikh Rashid Ahmed announced that an Air Patrolling Unit would soon be established in the capital. He said he would inaugurate the unit and a dozen drone cameras had also been bought in this regard.
Manpower of the capital police is also being increased and 1,000 personnel will be inducted in the police force, the minister added.
Two locaters are also being purchased for the capital police, Mr Ahmed said, adding that Islamabad had not had a locater since the last few years.
They have to borrow locaters to track down the accused, the minister said.
Besides Art and Craft village, Melody Market and Food Park are being renovated whereas another food park will be established in the capital, Mr Ahmed said, adding that a club will also be inaugurated.
Last month, in a written reply to questions asked by MNA Naveed Aamir Jeeva, Mr Ahmed had said that the capital police force had strength of 12,515 including 8,147 constables, 1,568 head constables, 1,142 assistant sub-inspectors, 514 sub-inspectors and 173 inspectors.
There are 41 deputy superintendents of police, nine assistant superintendents of police, 20 superintendents of police, 12 assistant inspector general/senior superintendents of police, five deputy inspector generals and an inspector general of police.
Officials of the capital police said that the Air Patrolling Unit would work in collaboration with Safe City Project Islamabad.
A blue print of the unit is being prepared, but it is most likely to patrol urban areas of the capital, the officials said, adding safe city cameras are being installed. These drone cameras move in a radius of a kilometre or more to follow and keep an eye on suspects.
The unit will mount surveillance in areas vulnerable to crime against property, including burglaries, robberies, snatching, street crimes and auto-theft, they added.