TTP talks: Bilawal says parliament should be calling the shots

High-level PPP huddle seeks parliament’s role in countering terrorismMeeting decides to reach out to allies for consensus on way forward

A high-level huddle of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday sought the parliament’s role in countering terrorism after developments came to light regarding peace talks between Pakistani officials and the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

A series of meetings were recently held between representatives of Pakistan and the outlawed TTP in Kabul to broker a peace deal. The Afghan Taliban government is acting as a mediator. A tribal jirga, consisting of elders, politicians and others from the erstwhile tribal areas, also visited Afghanistan and met TTP leaders. The flurry of meetings led to the TTP announcing an indefinite ceasefire.

On Saturday, PPP leadership met at Zardari House in Islamabad to discuss in detail the issue of terrorism, particularly in the light of recent developments. “PPP believes that all decisions must be taken by parliament. Will be reaching out to allied parties to create consensus on the way forward,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said in a tweet.

The meeting was attended among others by Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, Faryal Talpur, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, Syed Khurshid Shah, Sherry Rehman, Nayyar Hussain Bukhari, Faisal Karim Kundi, Humayun Khan, Nadeem Afzal Chan, Akhunzada Chattan, Rukhsana Bangash, Nisar Khuro and Farhatullah Babar.

A senior PPP leader told a publication that there appeared to be wheels within wheels in the state apparatus, and it was extremely risky for national security to conduct such a serious exercise without informing parliament, political parties and other stakeholders.

Farhatullah Babar said the meeting reiterated the party’s position that all decisions must be taken by the parliament and thus, the parliament must be taken on board. The negotiations in Kabul between a Pakistani grand jirga and the banned TTP had advanced significantly earlier this month.

Last year, the two sides had agreed to a ceasefire but talks failed. The talks, also held inside Afghanistan, broke down due to a disagreement over the release of TTP prisoners held by Pakistan, according to local media.

A Pakistani official in Kabul had stated last month that the talks had “entered a serious phase” with some progress. “Militant groups should not be allowed to dictate to the state where security forces can and cannot go. Moreover, the merger of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2018 came about as part of a constitutional process, and cannot be undone to accommodate the TTP’s whims … considering this chequered history, prospects of a durable peace with the militants are bleak,” it was said.

Questions were asked about whether the current government was on board with talks with the TTP.

Federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, in a statement, said the talks with the TTP were taking place at the government level. “Talks with the TTP began in 2021 and these negotiations have been taking place at the government level,” the minister said, confirming the peace talks with the banned group.

The PPP has previously opposed talks with the TTP during the tenure of the previous PTI government and questioned why parliament was not taken into confidence. PPP Chairman Bilawal had termed the talks a “betrayal of the blood of martyrs”.