Pakistan’s Taliban insurgents and the country’s top security official have set conditions for peace talks in comments that may be aimed primarily at influencing a general election due by May.
In a video message broadcast by local media yesterday, the spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said the group would join negotiations if leaders of the country’s main opposition party and religious groups act as guarantors and militant commanders are released.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Jan. 27 called on the Taliban to renounce violence and sit down for negotiations, the Dawn newspaper reported, citing his speech in parliament.
Pakistan’s Taliban movement is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations that are fighting security forces in the country’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The insurgents are opposed to Pakistan’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose Islamic law. Militants killed seven Pakistan soldiers in a Feb. 2 attack on an army camp in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
The Taliban doesn’t trust the Pakistani military to negotiate honestly, Ehsan said, while calling it the institution that held sway in the country.
“The army is the real ruler in Pakistan, not politicians,” Ehsan said in the video. “So if the government is serious in talks, then we will need guarantors, making sure that the army won’t back out.” He named former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as one of three politicians -- the other two lead religious parties -- the Taliban wants to take part in talks.
Coming months ahead of the parliamentary polls, the Taliban “are trying to build domestic pressure because Islamic parties support peace talks and Sharif’s stand is ambiguous,” said Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based political analyst. These interlocutors “have no political weight with the military, they can’t play any role.”
Pakistan’s military has struck deals with Taliban in the past 10 years, including a 2009 pact to end fighting in the Swat valley that had forced 2 million people from their homes.
The Taliban offer of talks comes as the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa struggles to contain violence in the province and guerrillas have spread their attacks to other parts of the country, including the commercial hub of Karachi.
The Awami National Party, which rules Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, welcomed Ehsan’s comments. The party is seeking to build a national consensus for opening dialogue with Taliban, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, provincial information minister, said in televised comments yesterday.