A senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban says his group has opened peace talks with the government.
The Pakistani Taliban’s Deputy Commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, while speaking to local reporters by telephone, revealed that his group is negotiating a peace deal with the government and that the talks are progressing well.
Giving further details, the militant leader says he believes any peace deal emerging from the dialogue could be used as a “role model” for the rest of insurgency-hit districts in northwestern Pakistan, most of which are on the border with Afghanistan.
The Taliban commander says the government has also released scores of his fighters as a goodwill gesture and in return militants have halted their attacks.
No direct confirmation
Without directly confirming reports of alleged peace talks with militants, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told a local TV station holding such talks is part of his government’s policy, and it is a continuing process.
“First is dialogue, the other is development and the third is deterrence. That [peace talks] is a part of our policy,” he said.
The Pakistani prime minister did not give further details.
Reports of talks between the government and Taliban militants have been carried by local and foreign media outlets recently, but both sides had denied them. At the time, Pakistani officials had stated that there would be no talks unless militants lay down their arms.
Pakistan in the past has struck peace deals with Taliban insurgents but they did not last long and militants used the lull in fighting to regroup.
The Pakistani Taliban has carried out hundreds of attacks prompting the government to launch major military offensives to root out their bases.
Political and public demands for engaging in peace talks with militants have also intensified in Pakistan.
A government-sponsored national conference of Pakistan’s political and military leaders in September ended with a resolution to "give peace a chance" with militants.
While U.S officials are pushing for talks to end the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, they are unlikely to support Pakistan’s peace initiatives with local Taliban forces because of their close association with al-Qaida-led militants.
Ties with NATO, U.S. still problematic
Reports of peace talks come amid Islamabad’s growing tensions with Washington following last month’s NATO airstrikes on Pakistani border posts that killed 24 soldiers.
Pakistan condemned the “unprovoked” attack and responded by closing border crossings used by NATO to supply its forces in Afghanistan. It also told Washington to vacate an airbase in southwestern Pakistan by December 11 and has vowed to review anti-terror cooperation with international forces.
Prime Minister Gilani in his Saturday remarks reiterated that, on his instructions, lawmakers are preparing recommendations for future relationship with the United States.
“We want to have maintained excellent relations with the United States but [based] on mutual respect and mutual interest,” he said.
The United States insists the airstrikes on Pakistani border posts were not intentional. U.S. officials say an investigation into what it calls a "terrible tragedy" is expected to be concluded later this month.