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Pakistan Denies Holding Talks with Taliban

Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik (file photo).
Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik (file photo).

Top officials in Pakistan have denied the government is engaged in a peace dialogue with homegrown Taliban, reiterating the militants will have to lay down their arms and surrender, before such talks are held. Taliban militants also have issued conflicting statements about entering into peace negotiations with the government.

The latest reports of peace talks between the Pakistani government and local Taliban appeared in media outlets in recent days.

It all started when a key militant leader, Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, widely known as the deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban, contacted local reporters on Saturday to claim that his group is on the verge of signing a formal peace deal with the government.

The Taliban leader also claimed that the government, as a “goodwill gesture”, has released dozens of his fighters.

But Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik has denied the claims as “unfounded”, saying neither talks with the Taliban are taking place nor are their prisoners have been released.

"Categorically, I'm telling on behalf of the government, no dialogue," said Malik.

The interior minister reiterated that the government may consider the option of engaging in peace talks with militants, provided they come down from their bases in the hills, denounce violence and abandon their weapons according to the tribal customs.

Malik says that security forces have sufficiently weakened the networks of the Pakistani Taliban and the government is determined to continue with its anti-militancy campaign.

Pakistani officials and independent analysts believe that, because of losses in the battlefield during the past year, Taliban groups operating in the northwestern tribal belt on the Afghan border are facing defections in their ranks.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban contacted reporters to deny the earlier announcement by the group’s deputy chief, saying there will be no peace talks with the government unless it implements Sharia or Islamic law in the country.

Analysts like former army general Mehmood Shah believe the conflicting claims are a clear sign of splits within the Taliban movement.

"This is a fragmented sort of organization right now, Tehrik-i-Taliban has been sufficiently been weakened," he said. "Maulvi Faqir Mohammed is no longer in Pakistan. He is sitting in Afghanistan in Kunar province. He cannot come back and he has no connections with the other Taliban."

Claims of a broad Taliban retreat in Pakistan are supported by an overall decline in militant violence after years where the country witnessed hundreds of suicide and other terrorist attacks that killed thousands of people.

But the Pakistani military says fleeing Islamist insurgents fleeing have found sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s northeastern border region, where their Afghan supporters are helping them to regroup and launch deadly raids back home.