Taliban negotiator boycotts peace talks

Says Taliban want talks under Islamic law rather than country’s constitution.

Says Taliban want talks under Islamic law rather than country’s constitution.

ISLAMABAD - One of the three Taliban negotiators, Maulana Abdul Aziz, on Friday announced that he will boycott the ongoing peace talks between the government and the Taliban.

He objected to a key understanding between the two sides during first round of meetings, held on Thursday, that the talks should be held within the framework of the country’s constitution.

“I will no more be part of the talks until the condition of holding talks under the constitution is removed,” said Maulana Aziz, who rose to limelight in a 2006 military operation at Islamabad’s Red Mosque where he is the chief cleric.

Flanked by dozens of his supporters, the flamboyant cleric - who analysts consider the toughest to negotiate with - said that he would remain part of the three-member team of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a combination of different Taliban branches in Pakistan, unless asked by the Taliban leadership to quit.

“But I will not attend the meetings (between two sides) until this condition is removed,” he clarified.

However, another member of the TTP team, Professor Ibrahim Khan downplayed Maulana Aziz's actions.

"We are trying to convince him (Aziz) that we should not put our agenda before the government. We have been nominated and trusted by one of the two sides (Taliban) to negotiate on their behalf. Therefore we should put forward their agenda in talks," Professor Ibrahim who is a central leader of Jamat-e-Islam, one of two mainstream religious parties told Anadolu Agency.

"We have had contacts with the Taliban leadership by telephone. We are going to meet them in person to know what exactly their agenda is? We in principle are in complete agreement with Maulana Aziz in connection with supremacy of the Quran and Sunnah," he added.

"But here we are representing the Taliban, and we want to know what is their stand on this condition (holding of talks under constitution)", he insisted.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said that any reaction to government's demand, for talks to be held within the limits of the existing constitution, is "premature."

"We are reviewing the government's demand. We will take a definitive decision in this regard after meeting our (negotiating) team," Shahid said in a press release on Friday evening.

Shahid said Maulana Aziz was still part of TTP's negotiating team.

The first round of the much-awaited peace talks, that are seen as a last ditch effort by the government to end over a decade long insurgency in the country that has killed thousands, through negotiations, was held on Thursday in Islamabad.

The first round chartered a roadmap for peace talks, agreeing to an immediate ceasefire between the two sides and holding the talks within the framework of the constitution.

Maulana Aziz claimed that Pakistan’s incumbent constitution is “not Islamic”.

“There would be no problem if our constitution was Quran and Sunnah. But since, this is not the case, therefore people should not be misled into believing that our constitution is Islamic”.

He said that the Taliban had time and again refused to recognize the current constitution. However, no immediate reaction to Maulana Aziz’s boycott from the Taliban was available.

Pakistan’s current constitution, the third one since 1947, when the country got independence from British raj, was passed by the parliament in 1973 with a key article that no law repugnant to Quran and Sunnah can be introduced and implemented in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

All Pakistan’s religious parties unanimously not only took part in preparation of the constitution, but recognize it as an Islamic constitution.

By Aamir Latif

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