Pakistani Taliban sets conditions for talks

Fighters demand that Pakistan release prisoners and pull back army from tribal areas before peace talks.

Pakistan Taliban
The army has carried out scores of operations against the Taliban in the tribal region [EPA]

The Pakistani Taliban has demanded that the government release prisoners belonging to the group and begin withdrawing troops from its tribal sanctuary before it will participate in peace talks, raising doubts about prospects for negotiations.

The Taliban’s leadership council decided on the need for confidence building measures while meeting to discuss the government’s offer to hold peace talks, the group’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said on Sunday.

Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed peace talks with the Taliban last week as the best way to end a decade-long campaign that has killed thousands of people.

“The Taliban have been deceived in the past in the name of peace, so the government will have to take some steps before the start of talks to assure the Taliban that the government is serious about the peace process,” Shahid told the AP news agency by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The government must release Pakistani Taliban rebels it is holding prisoner and show that it is withdrawing soldiers from the tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, said Shahid, adding “If the government does not take these two steps, the peace process cannot go forward”.

Army’s nod required

But it is unclear what steps the government is willing to take to convince the fighters to sit down at the negotiating table. It is also unclear what would be acceptable to the army, which has lost thousands of soldiers fighting the Taliban and is considered the strongest institution in the country.

The army has carried out scores of operations against the Taliban in the tribal region, but the fighters have proven resilient and continue to carry out regular attacks.

A roadside bomb killed a Pakistani general and another officer on Sunday near the border with Afghanistan, the Pakistani army said.

The major general and a lieutenant colonel were killed in the Upper Dir district after visiting an outpost near the border.

Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from the capital, Islamabad, said: “Major General Sanaullah was on a visit to forward locations to see his troops along the border with Afghanistan when the bomb blast occurred. Lieutenant Colonel Tauseef and a corporal were also killed in the incident.

“The attack comes at a time when the military was about to start its withdrawal from Shangla in upper Swat and Buner and may be a setback for the ongoing efforts for talks with the Pakistani Taliban.”

Scepticism galore

Many observers are sceptical about peace talks with the Taliban since prior agreements with the group have fallen apart.

Critics say the deals simply gave the fighters time to regroup and continue their fight against the state.

Even if the two sides could come to an agreement, it is unclear how well the Taliban could enforce it on their side.

There are dozens of armed groups based in the tribal region with varying degrees of allegiance to the Taliban.

The US is wary of a peace deal because it could give Afghan Taliban fighters greater space to conduct cross-border attacks against US-led troops in Afghanistan.

But it could be hard for the US to push back against negotiations since it wants Pakistan’s help in striking a peace deal with the Afghan Taliban.

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused on different targets.

The Afghan Taliban have fought coalition troops in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban have largely focused on battling the Pakistani state.

The Pakistani Taliban indicated they were open to holding peace talks at the end of last year but withdrew that offer in May after the group’s deputy leader was killed in a US drone strike.

Despite the Taliban’s reluctance, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has continued to push for negotiations since he took office in June.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies