Pakistani Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar.
Pakistan Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar has offered to conduct peace talks with the government just days after the military promised “decisive action” against the Taliban in their sanctuary in the Bajaur tribal agency. But Omar said the Taliban refused to lay down their weapons as long as Western forces remain in neighboring Afghanistan.
Conflicting reports emerged from Pakistan over the past several days as Omar initially said the Taliban would be willing to lay down their arms and conduct unconditional talks with the government.
“We are willing to negotiate with the government without any conditions,” Omar initially told BBC Urdu in an interview on Oct. 15. “We are also willing to lay down our arms, once the military ceases operations against us.”
But Omar later told Dawn that the Taliban would continue to keep their weapons as long as Coalition forces remain in Afghanistan and the Pakistani government remains allied to the United States.
“A threat is looming large on our western borders and, therefore, Taliban can’t disarm themselves unless the occupation forces leave Afghanistan,” Omar said.
The Pakistani government has maintained that it would negotiate with any group that would surrender its weapons and stop fighting the military as part of its three-pronged strategy of negotiations, development and military action.
The government has conducted direct negotiations with the Taliban in the past. A series of peace deals between the government and the Taliban in North and South Waziristan, Mohmand, Khyber, Arakzai, Bajaur, Swat, Hangu, Dir, and Malakand have allowed the Taliban to consolidate power in the tribal areas and in much of the Northwest Frontier Province.
In the past, the Taliban have promised to lay down their weapons, eject “foreigners” from the tribal areas, end the practice of establishing parallel governments, and end fighting against the state. The Taliban have violated the agreements, and have conducted a vicious military and terror campaign throughout Pakistan.
Fighting in Bajaur, Swat
The Pakistani military continues to report heavy fighting in the Bajaur tribal agency and the settled district of Swat, where fighting has been raging since the summer. Today, Pakistani military officials claimed 60 Taliban fighters were killed in Swat after aircraft pounded Taliban camps in the Peochar valley.
“Security forces destroyed a training camp and hideouts of militants in Peochar in Swat valley, killing 60 of them and injuring scores of others,” a senior Pakistani security official said.
Yesterday, Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, claimed there are no terror camps inside the country.
The Pakistan government has reported high numbers of Taliban deaths in Swat and Bajaur on a daily basis. An estimated 20 to 60 Taliban are being reported killed daily in the two regions. The military has claimed that more than 1,000 Taliban have been killed since operations began in August.
But Pakistan is “exaggerating” enemy casualties, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “There is no doubt combat is occurring in these areas, but the numbers are exaggerated,” the official said. “Notice how very few Pakistani soldiers are being reported killed.”
Taliban spokesman Omar flatly denied his forces are taking heavy casualties. In the interview with Dawn Omar claimed only 17 of his fighters have been killed during the fighting. Omar then claimed that more than 110 soldiers and 250 Frontier Corps paramilitary troops were killed by the Taliban, and another 46 were captured.
Local tribesmen and journalists support Omar’s claims of low Taliban casualties, the BBC reported. The high death told and reports of Taliban fighting from fixed positions are “exaggerated,” locals said.
“Local journalists say that many of the places where the military claimed to have killed the insurgents were abandoned weeks before any attack,” according to the BBC report. “They also say that there is a big discrepancy between the number of bodies recovered and buried and the numbers of militants the military claim to have killed.”
“The truth lies somewhere in between Omar and the Pakistani military’s claims,” the US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
The military has been fighting for nearly one year in Swat but has been unable to dislodge the Taliban despite boasting it would defeat the Taliban by Dec. 15, 2007.
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