ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Despite a recent series of bloody militant attacks in the country’s northwest, Pakistan insists it is determined to pursue peace talks with Islamist insurgents to bring an end to the violence.
Pakistan has witnessed several deadly bombings within the past two weeks that have killed nearly 200 people. Most of the bloodshed has occurred in and around the northwestern city of Peshawar, including a massive suicide attack on Christian worshipers.
The latest violent incident happened on Thursday near the insurgency-plagued northwestern tribal district, Orakzai, when a suicide bomber killed at least 17 people believed to be helping the government in its anti-militancy efforts.
The ongoing violence has prompted many to question Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s plans, backed by political parties across the board, to seek peace talks with the Islamist militants who are waging an insurgency under an umbrella organization called Terhik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP.
Despite the rise in violent attacks and resulting criticism, the prime minister’s adviser on national security and foreign policy, Sartaj Aziz, on Thursday defended the government’s policy.
“I think despite these incidents the dialogue option should be pursued, because Taliban are many groups and many of them do want to [engage in talks], and they have unanimously said that they want to pursue the dialogue. There are some elements who would like to disrupt the dialogue but the whole purpose of the dialogue is to put an end to such incidents,” said Aziz.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for Thursday’s suicide car bombing, but the group has denied involvement in other recent attacks, including a twin suicide bombing targeting a church in Peshawar that killed more than 80 members of the minority Christian community.
Taliban extremists have demanded the government release all militant prisoners and remove Pakistani troops from the northwestern tribal region, where insurgents are entrenched, before they engage in peace talks. The militants are also demanding an end to the U.S. drone strikes in the tribal areas.
Aziz reiterated that the drone campaign violates Pakistan’s sovereignty and said collateral damage from such attacks is fueling militancy. He stated that Pakistani authorities have taken up this issue with American leaders, and the prime minister also raised it in his address last week to the United Nations General Assembly.
“So, we will continue our pressure on this subject and I hope the U.S. will find it reasonable, particularly in terms of not achieving the objectives, that it is counterproductive and they will therefore respond and stop the drone attacks in the tribal areas,” said Aziz.
Taliban militants also want Pakistan to end its alliance with the United States, alleging the country has become part of an anti-Muslim war. National Security Adviser Aziz says one of the main objectives of the government in seeking talks with the Taliban is to do away with this perception.
Pakistani commentators, analysts and newspapers editorials have consistently criticized and advised the government against a peace dialogue with the militants. They insist the country's constitution does not allow the government to engage in such negotiations with armed groups that condemn Pakistan's political system as un-Islamic and want to impose through violent means their brand of Islamic system.