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Pakistan: Taliban Peace Efforts Continue Despite US Strike

FILE - Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, left, is during his meeting with media in Sararogha of Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan along the Afghanistan border, Oct. 4, 2009.
Pakistan's government is insisting that negotiating a peaceful end to the decade-long militant insurgency in the country was the only way forward, despite a U.S. drone strike that killed the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. Over the weekend, top officials had angrily decried the killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, saying it had sabotaged nascent peace talks with the militant group.

But on Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif renewed his call for peace talks and reintegration as a way of ending the decade long Taliban insurgency in the country.

He said, “Our government, ladies and gentlemen ... is firmly resolved to bringing the cycle of bloodshed and violence to an end, but it cannot be done overnight, nor can it be done by unleashing senseless force against our citizens, without first making every effort to bring the misguided and confused elements of society back to the mainstream.”

His measured words appeared to dial back some of the fury expressed by Pakistani officials over the weekend that a U.S. drone attack had sabotaged all chances of dialogue with the Pakistan Taliban by killing the militant leader Hakimullah Mehsud.
According to official media, Prime Minister Sharif has directed his interior minister to consult with political leaders on a way forward. It was crucial, Mr. Sharif said to be unified.

"We also have to ensure that the political parties, military and the civil society are on the same page, so as to create the enabling environment necessary to tackle this menace," he said.

The Taliban, a network of some 30 militant groups, has nominated Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani as their new interim leader. Analysts say the indecision regarding who should be their permanent leader reflects power conflicts within the organization.
Mehsud was killed in a drone strike as a Pakistani government team was on its way to negotiate terms of peace talks with the militants. The incident, analysts say, was deeply embarrassing for the government, and over the weekend Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan lashed out at Washington, calling for a review of Pakistan-U.S. relations.

But political analyst and professor, Rasul Baksh Rais, says Mehsud's death was privately welcomed by many.

"In their heart of hearts, security forces, politicians, government officials and the society at large must be pretty relaxed and pretty satisfied that a most wanted man is gone," he said.

Rais adds that the militants, faced with the loss of one of the Taliban's most ruthless leaders and constant pressure from Pakistan security forces, will eventually return to the negotiating table.

"We have lost an opportunity which was in the making, but everybody will eventually come back to the negotiating table, that is the only way out, because the Taliban has been sent a very strong message - not for the first time, many times," he said.

Rais warned however, that the Taliban might first make a show of force through more violent attacks in the country.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.