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Pakistan’s Sharif Says Talks With Taliban Militants an Option

Pakistan Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif said an offer of peace talks from the country’s Taliban insurgents should be taken seriously to end militant violence that has ravaged the country for more than a decade.

“Every option should be used,” Sharif told newly elected lawmakers from his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party late yesterday in the eastern city of Lahore. “Guns and bullets alone are not the solution to any problem,” Sharif said, reiterating a position he held before voters handed him control of the lower house of parliament in May 11 elections.

Pakistan’s Taliban movement is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations fighting security forces in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The insurgents are opposed to Pakistan’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose Islamic law. A wave of violence before the election, partly claimed by the Taliban, killed more than 150 people.

In a video message in February, the Taliban said it was willing to hold negotiations if Sharif and two leaders of religious parties acted as guarantors to ensure the country’s army would not back out. Security policy in Pakistan is dictated by the military.

Pakistan has in the past agreed to deals with the Taliban, including a 2009 pact to end fighting in the Swat valley in return for the government placing the region under Shariah rule. Troops were called in after insurgents broke the agreement and advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad. The resulting conflict forced two million people from their homes.

Khan Poised

The accords failed to bring peace, Anatol Lieven, a professor at London’s King’s College and author of “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” said in a May 12 interview. “The Pakistani Taliban made bigger and bigger gains. There is a real risk that will start happening again” if military offensives cease, he said from London.

The U.S., Pakistan’s biggest aid donor, has long demanded the army extend its campaigns in the northwest to include groups like the Haqqani network, which American officials say attacks U.S. and Afghan forces across the border.

In his first policy statement since the election, Sharif said militancy had cost the country 40,000 lives and billions of dollars. “Why not sit and talk, why not bring peace to the country through dialogue. Is it a bad option?” he said.

The PML-Nawaz won 124 of 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly, four times more than its nearest rival. Parliament has to be convened within three weeks of the election and will vote for a prime minister.

Imran Khan, whose party is poised to form the provincial government in northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, a gateway to the volatile tribal region, has also vowed to promote talks with the insurgents. Khan has called for army offensives and missile attacks by U.S. drone aircraft that target militants in the mountainous districts to stop.

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