Senior Taliban commanders and government officials say “exploratory” talks were held over past six months.
|The Taliban has been battling the Pakistani army in the country’s northwest for the last four years [EPA]|
A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban has denied earlier claims that the group was in talks with the government in Islamabad.
Sunday’s announcement by Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the Pakistani wing of the group, comes a day after Maulvi Faqir Mohammed, deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban, said the group had commenced peace talks with the Pakistani government.
“Talks by a handful of people with the government cannot be deemed as the Taliban talking,” Ehsan told The Associated Press by telephone from an undisclosed location.
Ehsan said there would be no talks with the government until Islamabad agreed to impose Sharia law.
The conflicting claims of the past two days are seen as a sign of splits within the movement, which could make it even more difficult for the Pakistani state to negotiate an end to the bloody four-year battle between the fighters and government.
Security officialis, analysts, and tribesmen in Pakistan have all said that the Pakistani Taliban have become a severely splintered force of 100 factions in recent years.
‘Give peace a chance’
The armed group has been battling the Pakistani army in the country’s northwest for the last four years, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis.
The group has taken responsibility for a number of major attacks across the country.
There was no immediate comment from the government on the reports, but Islamabad pledged in September to “give peace a chance” and talk with homegrown armed groups.
Claims of talks may further fray relations between Pakistan and the US, from which the country receives billions of dollars in military aid, as Washington has labelled the TTP a terrorist group.
Washington has pushed for peace talks between the government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and the Afghan branch of the Taliban, but has not made such calls for talks between the Pakistani wing of the armed group and Islamabad.
Past deals between the Pakistani Taliban and the government have broken down and given the group time to strengthen their fight against US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The development comes weeks after at least 24 Pakistan soldiers were killed in a NATO air raid, which US President Barack Obama said was a mistake.
Following the incident, Pakistan shut a vital NATO supply route into Afghanistan and ordered the US to vacate Shamsi air base.
A Pakistani parliamentary committee has ordered a complete review of all strategic agreements with the US, and top officials say that the goal is to draft a new set of “terms of engagement” with the United States.
Past peace pacts with the TTP have failed to bring stability and merely gave the umbrella group time and space to consolidate. In every previous case of a peace deal with members of the group, peace deals have broken down and led to the resumption of hostilities.
There have been isolated instances of peace deals with members of the group holding, but these have usually involved the local commander in question withdrawing from the TTP.