A Pakistani lawmaker and deputy leader of a conservative religious party, accused of links with militant groups, has invited the Pakistani Taliban to join his Islamist political party.
As a three-day gathering of religious devotees and political followers got under way Thursday, the secretary general of Pakistani's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Abdul Ghafoor Haidari, called on the Taliban in Pakistan to lay down arms and pursue its objectives through political means.
Speaking to reporters the previous day in the northwestern restive city of Peshawar, Haidari said, "We invite them [Pakistani Taliban] to join JUI-F and achieve their objectives with the help of a peaceful and political struggle."
Over a quarter million people, including foreign guests, were expected to attend the gathering in Naushera, near Peshawar, which began to celebrate the centenary of the conservative party.
"We have sent invitations to 52 countries and have also invited ambassadors from Muslim and European Union countries," Jalil Jan, a spokesperson for JUI-F, told VOA's Deewa service. "Guests from 20 countries have already arrived. More guests are arriving today and tomorrow morning."
The guest list also includes the deputy Imam of the Kaaba — the Muslim holy place in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Headed by Maulana Fazal-ur-Rahman, JUI-F is an offshoot of a Muslim Sunni clerics' political movement founded in British India by the Deobandi madrassa in 1919, which opposed the formation of a separate homeland for Indian Muslims — today's Pakistan.
Rahman's father, Mufti Mahmoud, was one of the leading members who parted ways with the party in 1945 and supported the creation of Pakistan.
The party has been a strong advocate of Sharia law in the country and has opposed liberal initiatives in the parliament.
According to Haidari, the gathering is being held to demonstrate to the world that there is no space for extremism in Islam, Pakistani media said.
"Islam's revered beliefs cannot be made controversial. It clearly states that the killing of one person means the murder of all humanity," said Haidari, who is also the vice chairman of Pakistan's senate.
Taliban agreement seen as unlikely
Analysts say the Islamist party's message is unlikely to appeal to Taliban members.
"This will not make TTP [Pakistani Taliban] surrender their arms or leave their movement and ideology," Amir Rana, a security and political analyst in Islamabad, told VOA. "Those who have joined the Taliban might not come back."
Peshawar-based political analyst Khadim Hussain said the Taliban does not believe in Pakistani government institutions or its constitution, nor do they accept democracy.
"How can Taliban join the political scenario of Pakistan while having such ideologies against the state?" Hussain told VOA.
Hussain added that unless the Islamist party condemns all forms of terrorist groups, including those that are fighting to topple the government in neighboring Afghanistan, its message would fall on deaf ears. JUI-F has historically supported the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"Fazal-ur-Rahman believes that Afghan Taliban are fighting for freedom or imposing Sharia in Afghanistan and it's justified," Hussain said. "But on the other hand, he has a completely different stance on Taliban active against the state in Pakistan. For JUI, if Taliban is used against Afghanistan, that's right, but if they fight against the state of Pakistan, it's wrong."
JUI-F has strongly opposed American drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, viewing it as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.
Following the 2011 U.S. raid in Abbottabad that killed al-Qaida's leader Osama bin Laden, the JUI-F condemned the drone strikes, calling on the government to stop the passage of supplies to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistan.