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Pakistan PM pushes for talks with Taliban

Despite continuing attacks by banned group, Nawaz Sharif vows to give "peaceful solution one more chance".

Last updated: 30 Jan 2014 01:34
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Islamabad, Pakistan - Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, has reiterated his government’s commitment to an abortive dialogue process with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), while stressing that "dialogue and terrorism cannot go together".

Addressing the country’s parliament in Islamabad on Wednesday, Sharif announced the formation of a four-member committee to initiate dialogue with the armed group, which has carried out increasingly sophisticated attacks against the state since 2007 and operates from Pakistan’s largely ungoverned tribal areas.

Sharif’s comments came minutes after a series of co-ordinated attacks, claimed by the TTP, killed at least three people in the southern port city of Karachi.

The new committee comprises of Irfan Siddiqui and Rahimullah Yousafzai, two senior journalists; retired Major Muhammad Amir, a former intelligence operative; and Rustum Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan.

It is unclear what the mandate of the committee is, and Sharif said that the team did not currently have a timeframe within which to conduct negotiations.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s interior minister, will chair the committee while Sharif said that he would "oversee" its work himself.

Committee member Yousufzai told Al Jazeera that the task ahead was “very difficult", but that he was not "entirely without hope, either".

Deadly attacks

Sharif’s PML-N-led government was elected on a campaign promise of bringing peace to the violence-wracked South Asian country through negotiations with the Taliban, and has doggedly stuck to this line since being elected in May 2013.

Terrorist attacks must stop. Dialogue and terrorism cannot go together.

Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan PM

Since then, violence related to armed groups has claimed at least 1,561 civilian lives in Pakistan, most of them in attacks claimed by the TTP or its allies.

In January of this year alone, at least 92 people have been killed in attacks linked to the TTP and its allied groups, including at least 20 soldiers in an attack on a military convoy in Bannu , and 13 people in an attack near the Pakistan army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi.

Those attacks prompted the military to launch air strikes against targets near Mir Ali, a bastion of the TTP in the North Waziristan tribal area. The air strikes were seen by many as a precursor to the launching of a more widespread military operation against the Taliban, but on Wednesday Sharif stuck to the government’s policy, which has so far remained unsuccessful in even establishing formal contact with the TTP.

"We want to give a peaceful solution one more chance. In order for this to work, we need to have certain preconditions," he said.

"Terrorist attacks must stop. Dialogue and terrorism cannot go together. On this issue, all institutions and the nation are on the same page."

Addressing the opposition, of which only one major party, the Pakistan People’s Party, has rejected talks, Sharif said: "I am trying to do this in the spirit of unity and hope we will move forward in that spirit [with other parties].

"This game of explosives and fire must end now."

Taliban meeting

Speaking to Al Jazeera, TTP spokesperson Shahidullah Shahid said that the group would convene a leadership meeting at an undisclosed location in the coming days to discuss the offer.

Shahid also said the group was responsible for the three explosions earlier in the day targeting paramilitary personnel in Karachi.

Senior police officer Amir Farooqi said that attackers threw a grenade at a vehicle carrying paramilitary Rangers in the Nazimabad neighbourhood of Karachi, killing one of them.

Minutes later, a roadside bomb wounded three security personnel in the same area, he said.

Farooqi added that about an hour later, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the headquarters of the paramilitary force, killing one Ranger and a private guard.

"The suicide attacker walked in and tried to enter into the gate when he was intercepted by the security officials and he blew himself up," Farooqi told the AFP news agency.

Karachi, the country’s largest city, has seen scores of attacks against security personnel in recent years, as well as high rates of political and other forms of targeted killings. In 2013, more than 2,700 people were killed in the city of around 15 million people, with police coming under particular pressure.

Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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