Taliban Claims Peace Talks With Pakistan

Reports of the contacts emerged on the same day that 16 Pakistani
troops were killed in two separate attacks – 14 in an ambush blamed on
separatist Baluch rebels in the southwest, and two in an attack blamed
on the Taliban.

Previous peace deals between Pakistan and Islamist militants have
rapidly unravelled, and were criticised by the United States and at
home for allowing militants space to regroup before launching new
waves of attacks.
It is also unclear whether the Taliban are united enough to cement a
lasting agreement across disparate parts of the northwest where they
hold sway, and whether any deal would allow militants more room to
operate in Afghanistan.

“Peace talks are continuing with the Pakistani government and army. We
have had two rounds of such talks,” one senior Taliban commander told
AFP by telephone, claiming to be on a 10-member negotiating committee.

He said Taliban conditions included troops withdrawing to barracks,
the military compensating losses and an exchange of prisoners.

It was unclear whether the talks were connected with a Swiss couple,
who were abducted on July 1 and whom the Pakistani Taliban claim to be

No one from the Pakistani military or government was available to
comment on the purported peace talks.

But as reports emerged, the paramilitary Frontier Corps said two
officers were killed Monday in a two-pronged Taliban attack on their
convoy in the tribal district of Orakzai, sparking clashes killing up
to 17 insurgents.

“They used mortar shells and other weapons. One captain and one
lieutenant were killed, and eight others were injured,” a military
spokesperson told AFP.

“Troops retaliated. Helicopters escorting the convoy also shelled the
militants. Seventeen militants were killed,” he added.

Significantly, there has been no major Islamist militant attack in
Pakistan since a suicide bomber killed 46 people, targeting an
anti-Taliban militia at a funeral in the northwestern district of
Lower Dir on September 15.

On September 29, political and military leaders called for a new
“focus on peace and reconciliation” at a conference organised by the

Suicide, bomb and gun attacks blamed on Taliban and
al-Qaeda-affiliates have killed more than 4 700 people since July
2007, according to an AFP tally.

US pressure

Reports of the peace talks come as the United States seeks Pakistani
help in facilitating a peace process in neighbouring Afghanistan,
where the Taliban have been leading an increasingly deadly 10-year

A second Pakistani Taliban commander confirmed initial contacts with
the government, saying that Taliban across the tribal belt had given
their consent.

“Peace negotiations have been going on several weeks. Our first
condition was to stop military offensives in the tribal areas,” the
commander said.

But the main spokesman for Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban faction,
Tehreek-e-Taliban, denied any peace talks.

“At the moment, the chapter of peace talks with the government is
completely closed,” Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by
telephone from an undisclosed location.

A regular visitor to North Waziristan, a premier Taliban hub, said the
militia always denies negotiations with the authorities but that
“these days, they are re-evaluating their strategy, and considering to
halt attacks”.

Pakistani troops have been fighting against homegrown Taliban in much
of the semi-autonomous tribal belt which snakes along the northwest
border with Afghanistan.

But the country has refused American pressure to open a new front
against Afghan Taliban, in particular the Haqqani network, in North

The first Taliban commander told AFP that the talks concern South
Waziristan and if successful, they will expand to other tribal

The commander said that former military officials from the tribal
areas were acting as mediators in the talks.

Two mid-level intelligence officials in the northwest were ignorant of
any peace talks, but said they could be taking place at a “very high

“It has always been like that with the Taliban: waves of attacks, then
quiet times,” said Saifullah Khan Mehsud, an analyst at the FATA
Research Centre.

“These days, government agencies are trying hard to divert them from
putting bombs in Pakistan,” he added.- AFP