Taleban seek release of 300 ‘non-combatants’

Pakistani interior minister assures Taleban talks panel to look into the matter.

By Afzal Khan

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Published: Thu 20 Mar 2014, 12:22 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 1:39 AM

The Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) has asked the government to release from jails 300 people they claim are non-combatants, as part of an ongoing peace process aimed at ending the seven-year reign of terror unleashed by the militants.

The TTP contested Pakistan army’s assertion that no women, children and non-combatant old people were in its custody.

A list handed over by the TTP includes women, children and old men, a negotiator for the group said on Tuesday, saying their release would boost the dialogue process that began in February.

“The security forces have established hundreds of secret detention cells in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in telephone calls to the media. Shahid said that verification of the names in the list was the responsibility of the government. He said that the TTP would give another list of detainees once progress was made in the peace talks.

He questioned Defence Minister Khwaja Asif’s knowledge about the secret detention cells of the security forces across the country. “The minister is not aware of the total number of these cells in the country, let alone the number of inmates,” the TTP spokesman claimed.

“The Taleban gave us a list of around 300 detainees during our recent visit to North Waziristan, which we have handed over to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan,” Prof. Mohammed Ibrahim said.

“The interior minister assured us he would look into the list and thoroughly investigate the matter.” A spokesman for the interior ministry could not be immediately reached for comment on whether the security agencies are holding the non-combatants.

The government opened negotiations with the TTP last month in a bid to end their seven-year insurgency which has left thousands of innocent people dead.

The process broke down for more than two weeks after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers, but later resumed after the Taleban announced a month-long ceasefire.

In an effort to take the talks to a higher level, the government last week formed a new four-member committee to begin direct contact with the Taleban.

Ibrahim said the venue for the next round was still under discussion.

“We hope that the two sides will be able to decide about the place of talks in the next few days,” he added. Negotiations have so far been conducted through teams of go-betweens, which some observers say has hampered their effectiveness.

The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.

But analysts are sceptical about their chances for success, given the Taleban’s demands for nationwide Shariah law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.

Many regional deals between the military and the Taleban have failed in the past.

Moreover, attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the Taleban ceasefire.

Two separate bomb attacks on Friday killed 19 people, with both blasts claimed by the dissident Ahrar-ul-Hind faction.


(With inputs from AFP)

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