Khan declines Taliban talks role

February 04, 2014 - 6:54:16 am

Members of TTP committee chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz (left) and senior religious party leaders, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq (centre) and professor Ibrahim Khan after their meeting in Islamabad yesterday.  The panel is set up to hold talks with the government.

ISLAMABAD: The party of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said yesterday they “appreciated” a Taliban request for him to represent them in peace talks with the government, but declined the offer.

Two teams, nominated by the government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), will hold a preliminary meeting in Islamabad today to chart a “roadmap” for talks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif caused surprise last week by naming a team to begin dialogue with the militants, who have been waging a violent insurgency since 2007.

Following a bloody start to the year, with more than 110 people killed in militant attacks in January, many had been anticipating a military offensive against TTP strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

The TTP named Khan as one of its negotiators on Saturday, along with several hardline religious figures including Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the “Father of the Taliban”.

Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, has been a vocal supporter of negotiating with the insurgents.

But PTI spokeswoman Shireen Mazari said yesterday that because a senior party figure, Rustam Shah Mohmand, was already on the government team, Khan’s presence was not needed.

“The core committee of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf appreciated Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan offer to our chairman Imran Khan to become part of their committee,” Mazari said.

Haq said his team would meet its government counterparts today  and afterwards discuss with the TTP leadership how to proceed.

“We expect a ceasefire from both the government and the Taliban -- it’s mandatory for the peace process,” said Haq.