Pakistani Taliban Kill 13 in Blast as Sharif Weighs Fresh Talks

A suicide bomber killed 13 people near Pakistan’s army headquarters a day after Taliban militants said they’d join talks with the government to end more than a decade of violence in the nuclear-armed country.

The dead included seven civilians and six soldiers, according to a military official who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak publicly. Taliban militants killed 20 troops yesterday in the northwestern town of Bannu, prompting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cancel a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The Taliban attacks on army personnel, which Dawn Newspaper reported was to avenge the deaths of leaders killed by U.S. drone strikes, may add pressure on Sharif to order a military operation against the Pakistani Taliban. Sharif won an election last year after pledging to start peace talks with the loose coalition of militant groups operating along the border with Afghanistan known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

“The army will definitely be pressed to take action against these people,” retired General Talat Masood, a defense analyst, said by phone from Islamabad. “I doubt talks will move anywhere.”

Nearly two dozen people were also injured in today’s bomb attack, including children heading to school, Pakistan’s Dawn TV reported, citing an unidentified police official.

Plans to start negotiations with the TTP have stalled since September, when Sharif received backing from political and military leaders to approach militants for talks. Soon after, Taliban fighters assassinated a major-general and killed 81 Christians in a suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church.

‘Meaningful Talks’

The Taliban insurgency has contributed to slowing economic growth in the country of 196 million people. In September, Pakistan secured a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to bolster the country’s finances.

The TTP yesterday said it was ready for “meaningful talks” to end the violence hours after it claimed responsibility for the attack in Bannu, Dawn Newspaper reported, citing Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the group.

The TTP conducted the attack to avenge the death of deputy leader Wali-ur-Rehman in a U.S. drone strike, Dawn reported, citing Shahid. The Taliban had ruled out peace talks with Sharif after a U.S. drone killed leader Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov. 1.

Cricket Legend

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.

Cricket legend Imran Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party now governs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after winning May elections in the region, said the government must clarify its policies toward militants.

The “government’s inability to formulate a comprehensive counter-terror policy has made it difficult to actually commence a formal dialogue,” Khan said in a statement yesterday.

Khan’s party has blocked a key U.S. supply route to Afghanistan that passes through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since Nov. 23 to pressure the U.S. to halt its drone campaign. Pakistan says drone attacks violate its sovereignty.

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