Pakistani Leaders Favor Talks With Taliban to End Violence

Pakistani political leaders agreed to initiate dialogue with militants, including the Taliban, who are opposed to the nation’s alliance with the U.S. in neighboring Afghanistan.

The joint resolution, which was issued after political leaders and top generals met today on a national security strategy, urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ’’take all necessary steps’’ to bring peace in the northwest region of the country, where Taliban and other militant groups are fighting with security forces.

Pakistan should also consider the possibility of taking its dispute over U.S. drone strikes in its tribal areas to the United Nations because such attacks violates the country’s sovereignty and break international law, the statement said.

Sharif, who was elected for a record third term in June, invited leaders of the main political groups to Islamabad, including Islamic opposition parties that sympathize with the Pakistani Taliban. Army General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the spy chief, Lieutenant General Zaheer ul Islam, also attended.

The strategy risks causing a rift between the military and the U.S. -- Pakistan’s largest donor -- as Sharif receives help from the International Monetary Fund to revive an economy hurt by power blackouts and militant attacks.

The U.S. wants Pakistan’s army to halt attacks by Taliban insurgents operating on the border before handing over security to Afghan forces next year. While the U.S. has reduced the number of drone strikes since 2011, it continues to target militants and al Qaeda operatives taking refuge in Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Military Strategy

The army, which in 2009 extended its operations into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, may be reluctant to support initiatives that buy the guerrillas time to rearm or assert their control over territory, according to Talat Masood, a retired army general and independent political analyst.

“Pakistan doesn’t have a coherent anti-terrorism strategy,” Masood said by phone today. “Instead of taking the bull by the horns, Sharif is trying to pass on the responsibility to others. I don’t think this approach of getting all on the same page will work.”

The army dominates security policy and has previously opposed talks with militants. Kayani said in an April speech that insurgents were responsible for killing 40,000 soldiers and civilians since Pakistan decided to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks with Sharif last month to win support for starting negotiations with Taliban insurgents. Karzai has said Pakistan is crucial to bringing the Taliban and other militants, which still control large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, into talks.

U.S. Withdrawal

Pakistani leaders have let Taliban-affiliated militant groups like the Haqqani Network operate from Northern Waziristan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders” once U.S. troops leave, according to a U.S. Defense Department report last year.

Pakistan’s Taliban movement is a loose group of militant and sectarian organizations that are opposed to the country’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law.

In June, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing 10 people in the mountainous northern region, including nine foreign climbers. It was the most audacious attack on foreigners in Pakistan since the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad in 2008.

Talks Supported

Sharif and Imran Khan, a former cricketer whose group emerged as the third-largest political party in May’s poll, supported talks with militants in their election campaigns. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party formed a government in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.

Previous agreements between the army and the Taliban failed to take hold. A 2009 pact to end fighting in the Swat valley in return for placing the region under Shariah rule was abandoned after insurgents broke the agreement and advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad.

The Pakistani Taliban withdrew an offer for talks earlier this year after a U.S. drone aircraft on May 29 killed the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, Waliur Rehman, the Dawn newspaper reported May 31, citing the group’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.

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