ISLAMABAD: The serving and retired civil servants, who form part of a new committee constituted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to hold peace talks with the Taliban have got the toughest, highly sensitive and the most critical assignment of their bureaucratic careers.
Given their track record, they are absolutely unlikely to go beyond the brief given to them by the prime minister.Some associates of the official body have not been formally identified, and if Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s remarks are any guide, the premier spy outfit, the Inter-Service Intelligence Agency (ISI), which is directly concerned with the issue, will provide all sorts of support and help to the government forum.
Not only during its meeting with the prime minister, the top army brass vowed to back the government policy in ending terrorism, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee that held a session a day later, came out with a similar resolve. All this was encouraging for the government, which wants to utilise all its sources and resources to fully exercise the option of dialogue. It was heartening for the pro-talks lobby.
Three members of the new committee - Ports & Shipping Secretary Habibullah Khattak, Additional Secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) Secretariat Arbab Arif and former bureaucrat/diplomat and PTI nominee Rustam Shah Mohmand hail from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and possess immense experience and knowledge about the tribal belt and the Taliban. Their nomination sounds well. They have held different senior positions in the KP in the past. Habibullah Khattak was also involved in talks with the Swat militants.
Topping all of them is Fawaad Hassan Fawaad, additional secretary in the Prime Minister Office, who has proved during his service that he is no nonsense type man and it is not possible to browbeat him.Above all, he is the prime confidant of Nawaz Sharif.
For quite some time following the retirement of Nasir Mahmood Khosa as the principal secretary to the prime minister, Fawaad acted in his place before Javed Aslam’s appointment. There is hardly any single important meeting presided by Nawaz Sharif in which Fawaad is absent, which shows the level of confidence the prime minister has in him. Before his shifting to the present assignment, he worked for years in the Punjab government with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. He was a prominent member of the team that delivered in Punjab, making a great contribution to the electoral victory of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Private conversations with top officials established that due to his clout and closeness to Nawaz Sharif, Fawaad evokes deep jealousy and heart-burning in a large number of senior and not so senior bureaucrats, but his detractors are in no position to get his role changed. Aided by some joint secretaries, he is virtually running the prime minister’s office.
Although Fawaad, a district management group officer, will be a member of the key committee headed by Habibullah Khattak, he would be the one who would be briefing the prime minister every now and then because of the trust he enjoys and the access he has to Nawaz Sharif.
According to a participant, Nawaz Sharif told Imran Khan that speculations about differences between the government and the army over the dialogue were simply baseless speculations. The reality, he said, is that both share the same opinion and approach.
The prime minister made it a point that he first takes Imran Khan into confidence about the composition of the new committee and then announces it sometime after the end of their meeting.
The participant said that no better session could be held between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan than Wednesday’s. He said that at no point did the two differ on the policy to do away with terrorism. It is evident, he said, their unanimity frustrated those calling for military operation and abandoning the dialogue process. He said that the joining of hands by the prime minister and the PTI chief sent a message to everybody that the two major political forces were one on pursuing negotiations with the TTP.