|Thousands of security forces and civilians have been killed in Pakistan's battles with the country's Taliban [Getty]
Leaders of Pakistan's armed Taliban movement have held exploratory peace talks with the government in recent months, senior Taliban commanders and government intelligence officials have said.
It was revealed on Monday that government delegations, which included former civilian and military officials and tribal elders, have held preliminary talks with the Pakistani Taliban over the past six months, according to media interviews given by intelligence officials and a senior Taliban commander.
"Yes, we have been holding talks, but this is just an initial phase. We will see if there is a breakthrough," a senior commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) told the Reuters news agency.
A potential peace deal between authorities and the Taliban could represent the best hope of ending years of fighting that have killed thousands of security personnel and civilians.
The ceasefire discussions are focused on the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border and could reportedly be expanded to reach a comprehensive deal.
The Taliban, a group linked closely with al-Qaeda, have made several demands, including the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of Pakistani forces from South Waziristan, said the TTP commander.
Past negotiations with the TTP have failed to bring stability. Critics have said the failed peace talks merely gave the group time and space to consolidate, launch fresh attack, and impose their strict version of Islam on segments of the population.
A tribal mediator described the talks as "very difficult". Pakistani military and government officials were not immediately available for comment.
"Right now, this is at the South Waziristan level. If successful, we can talk about a deal for all the tribal areas," he said, referring to Pashtun lands along the Afghan border.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the Pakistani prime minister, said in October that his government was ready for talks with the Taliban.
"We will not ask them [the armed fighters] to disarm before the negotiations since this is against the tribal culture. However, the political agents [government administrators in the tribal regions] will ask them to decommission themselves," Gilani said.
The United States, the source of billions of dollars of aid vital for Pakistan's economy, is unlikely to look kindly on peace talks with the Taliban, which it has labeled a terrorist group.
As a confidence-building measure, the Pakistani Taliban released five officials from the government's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) who were kidnapped in Baluchistan province, the officials and the commander said in
News of the peace talks came during a day of violence in the southwest of the country, where gunmen ambushed a Frontier Corps convoy, killing 14 government soldiers.
"Fourteen paramilitary personnel, including a major, were killed and several others were wounded. Baluch militants were involved," Murtaza Baig, military spokesman, said on Monday.
Ten others were also wounded in the attack, which took place in the Musa Khel district, 150km northeast of the provincial capital Quetta.
The scene of the attack was not far from Sui town, where two other soldiers were killed in a bombing on Saturday. The Baluchistan Liberation Army, a separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attack