Pakistan called on Taliban fighters to immediately halt terrorist attacks for peace talks to continue, a day after reports of the killing of 23 soldiers threatened to scuttle efforts to end the decade-long insurgency.
Negotiations can’t proceed until homegrown militants “cease all activities unconditionally,” according to a statement issued by a committee representing the government in talks with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP. The committee canceled a scheduled round of talks yesterday after a Taliban faction claimed responsibility for killing soldiers kidnapped in 2010 to avenge deaths of comrades in government prisons.
“Pakistan cannot afford such bloodshed,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a separate statement yesterday. “We sincerely initiated the negotiation process as per recommendations of the All Parties Conference, but whenever we reach an encouraging point, the process has been sabotaged.”
Sharif revived peace talks with the group as pressure grows for a military strike after attacks last month killed more than two dozen soldiers, part of violence that caused the deaths of 40,000 Pakistanis since 2001. Failure to reach a deal would threaten Sharif’s efforts to bolster the $225 billion economy as the U.S. reduces troops in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistani security forces gunned down three militants after they killed an army major in an attack on a military vehicle near the northern city of Peshawar today, the military’s public-relations unit said in a text message.
Umar Khalid Khurasani, leader of Mohmand Agency Taliban, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, on Feb. 16 claimed responsibility for killing the 23 soldiers, according to a statement from the group. The soldiers were kidnapped in June 2010 from a check post in the northwestern tribal region, it said. There has been no independent confirmation of the killings.
“We would like to make it clear to the government that our reaction could be more severe if the government did not desist from such acts in the future,” Khurasani said in the statement.
Sharif won an election last year after pledging to start peace talks with the TTP, a loose coalition of militant groups operating along the border with Afghanistan. A series of attacks have thwarted the talks, including one in September that killed 81 Christians in a suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church.
The TTP emerged after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Influenced by the Afghanistan Taliban, Pakistani factions want Sharif to end his country’s alliance with U.S. forces fighting in neighboring Afghanistan, and introduce their interpretation of Sharia law.
The Pakistani Taliban sees no urgency to reach an agreement with Sharif’s government because the group has been in a state of war for a decade, Maulana Abdul Aziz, a negotiator appointed by the group, said in a Feb. 7 interview.