No differences: ‘No prisoner release without army consent’

Pakistan on 14 April 2014
Location : Islamabad, Pakistan | Source : Express Tribune. Image Source: Express Tribune

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Sunday said reports suggesting the government released ‘non-combatant’ prisoners without taking the army on board were ‘illogical’.
“Releasing prisoners without the army’s consent is out of the question,” he told reporters at a news conference in Islamabad.

“Most of the prisoners who were released were being held at interment centres being run by the army… it is simply impossible… how can they be released without taking the army on board?” he said.

The interior minister also denied there were tensions between the army and the government, and claimed civil-military relations were better than they had ever been. At the same time, however, he candidly admitted to the presence of an ‘irritant’ between the government and the army.

“Yes, there was an irritant, but we shall get over it since it is the need of the hour… civil-military relations have never been as they are today… the relationship is frank and honest to a degree I’ve never witnessed in my 30-year political career,” Nisar said.

He denied the government and army had made personal attacks against each other and blamed some quarters of ‘playing up’ certain statements. Although there was no mention of former president Pervez Musharraf and his indictment for treason in the news conference, Nisar’s clarification did seem to suggest that this issue was the aforementioned ‘irritant’.

The minister said he had interacted with the army on several issues, including internal security and the situation in Karachi and Balochistan, and had received 100% support from the service.
“We cannot win this war unless the army, parliament, judiciary, intelligentsia, civil society and media are on the same page,” he stressed.

‘No deadlock in peace talks’

Nisar dispelled the impression that ongoing peace process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had reached an impasse and said the government was expecting the group to share its agenda in the next round of direct talks.

“The next [face-to-face] meeting will be held in a couple of days… we expect the Taliban to come up with their agenda,” he said.

The second face-to-face meeting with the government peace committee and the TTP was supposed to take place last week.

According to Nisar, the meeting could not take place because some members of the government peace committee were abroad. He said the government was also monitoring reports of infighting among the Taliban and wanted to make sure there was peace before the next round of direct talks began.

In response to a question, the minister said both the government and the Taliban were observing a ceasefire. He added that while both the government and army wanted to take the peace process forward, “some internal and external forces are trying to sabotage the talks.”

Prisoners’ release

The interior minister denied suggestions that the TTP had asked for the release of combatants in custody.

“Taliban have not demanded the release of combatants… we are at an initial stage of negotiations and that issue can only be raised at the final stage,” he said. “There is a war-like situation… the army is in Fata and the prisoners are with the army… how can one think combatant prisoners will be released?”

When asked about the government’s decision to release 13 more non-combatants, Nisar said they have not been freed yet and a procedure for this purpose would be worked out in the next meeting.

“We have given them [the Taliban] the names of Professor Ajmal [former vice-chancellor of Islamia College University] and the sons of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, and have asked for their release,” he said, adding that things could only move forward if the other side released non-combatants as well.

Islamabad Sabzi Mandi blast

According to Nisar, intelligence reports have suggested the claim of responsibility for the Islamabad Sabzi Mandi blast by the United Baloch Army is dubious.

“Viable intelligence suggests the roots of the incident were somewhere else,” he said.

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