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Pakistan Denies Peace Talks as Taliban Says Truce Is Declared

Pakistan’s government denied media reports that it is holding peace talks with the country’s Taliban militants, even as an unidentified commander of the movement was cited as saying a truce has been declared.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik and the army yesterday issued statements denying reports in recent days of secret talks between officials and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the main Islamic guerrilla movement fighting the government.

Hours later, a senior Taliban commander said the group had ordered a halt to attacks a month ago in support of a peace process, the Associated Press reported. While the story did not name the commander, it said he was close to Hakimullah Mehsud, the most prominent of the Pakistani movement’s leaders.

A member of the Taliban’s governing council, Umar Khalid Khurasani, denied in an interview that a truce is in effect. “We are not in any negotiations with the government,” he said.

The conflicting statements over a possible peace process come weeks after the government held a conference of political parties that urged a new effort at seeking talks. Militants and government troops have in the past month continued to fight in several of the seven ethnic Pashtun tribal districts that form the main base of the Taliban movement.

“There is nothing formal regarding talks with the Taliban,” Malik said in remarks reported by the official Associated Press of Pakistan. While he said the government and guerrillas have periodically exchanged messages, Malik repeated a demand that the Taliban “get rid of their arms” before any talks can be held, the agency said.

Tribal Intermediaries

Reports from Pakistan have said in the past week that officials were holding talks with Taliban leaders from South Waziristan, one of the tribal districts along the border with Afghanistan, using leaders of ethnic Pashtun tribes there as intermediaries. The latest such report, published yesterday by the Islamabad-based news agency Online, cited a Taliban commander and tribal leaders without naming them.

Militant attacks continued last week in at least two tribal districts, Kurram and Orakzai, where more than 30 guerrillas and an army officer were killed, according to officials and tribal sources cited by The News, a national newspaper.

“The army is not undertaking any kind of negotiations,” said a statement on the website of the military press office. “Any contemplated negotiation/reconciliation process with militant groups has to be done by the government.”

Mullen Claim

While the U.S. has pressed Pakistan to extend the army offensives it has conducted to clear some Taliban-controlled regions since 2009, the biggest remaining stronghold is a base for the guerrilla force of Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Former U.S. military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said in September the Haqqani network, which targets American troops based in Afghanistan from its Pakistani bases, operates as a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s main military spy agency.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has favored trying to negotiate peace with Taliban groups attacking the state. Last month he held a conference with the country’s main political parties that advocated a conciliatory approach. Days afterward, Pakistani newspapers quoted Gilani as saying he had dropped a demand that the guerrillas disarm before talks. One daily, the Express Tribune, quoted Maulvi Faqir, the deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban movement, as welcoming that offer.

Malik this month has restated the demand for disarmament.

Since 2004, when Pakistan began military offensives against the Taliban movement then beginning to take control of the border zone with Afghanistan, several peace deals have been negotiated, often collapsing within months.

Almost 20,000 people have been killed in insurgent violence in Pakistan since 2009, most of them in violence related to the Taliban, according to a database maintained by the New Delhi, India-based South Asia Terrorism portal.

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