Pakistan's top Taliban commander is vowing to continue fighting U.S. and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan, even if he signs a peace deal with the Pakistani government. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that fugitive commander Baitullah Mehsud spoke to a group of journalists, who were invited to his compound in the country's South Waziristan tribal region.
Baitullah Mehsud said clashes between the Taliban and Pakistan's army in the past year have harmed both Islam and Pakistan. He called for an immediate end to the fighting.
But Mehsud indicated that any peace agreement in Pakistan would have no bearing on attacks against NATO and U.S. forces across the border in Afghanistan, vowing to continue what he called the "jihad in Afghanistan".
A top Pakistani military spokesman declined to comment on Mehsud's statements when contacted by VOA.
Pakistani officials have pursued talks with militant groups, arguing that President Pervez Musharraf's military campaign against the militants in the last year only escalated the conflict. Officials are pursuing a peace deal, offering prisoner exchanges and troop withdrawals from Taliban strongholds in exchange for pledges from militants to halt attacks.
U.S. officials have expressed concern that peace deals with Taliban fighters will better allow them to stage attacks in Afghanistan, similar to the failed peace deals that President Musharraf struck with the groups less than two years ago.
On Friday, Maulvi Omer, a spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud, claimed that the new peace agreements are different.
He said that both the Pakistani government and the Taliban have learned a lot from the past, and, this time, the two sides should resolve the problem. He said, reaching an agreement is in the interests of both the government and the Taliban.
Pakistan's new government, led by the Pakistan People's Party, is supporting peace talks with Mehsud, even though he remains a top suspect in the killing of party leader Benazir Bhutto. In recent days, party leaders said they will ask the United Nations to investigate her December assassination.
Mehsud, who has denied he was involved in Bhutto's killing, told reporters that he would not cooperate with any U.N. investigation.