Two top leaders in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan have recently indicated that the group is willing to conduct peace talks with the Pakistani government.
Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who serves as the head of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s branch in South Waziristan and the deputy to Hakeemullah Mehsud, and Faqir Mohammed, the group’s leader in Bajaur, have told the Pakistani press that the terror group is open to direct talks with the Pakistani government. Two years ago, the Pakistani government placed bounties for the capture of both Taliban leaders.
Waliur Rehman said that the leadership council of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan is willing to consider talks with the government but would like a country such as Saudi Arabia, which he said the Taliban could “trust,” to broker the deal.
“We will see,” he told The Express Tribune. “Our shura (council) will decide whether and when can we enter into talks with the government, with the military…but I think we will like to involve countries we trust…they are in the Arab world. Let’s say Saudi Arabia.”
“Till now, we don’t have any direct peace offer…our shura will sit down when we are approached,” he continued. “That is how we operate. There is one centralized body to take important decisions.”
Waliur Rehman’s statement follows a similar statement made a week ago, in which Faqir Mohammed signaled that the Taliban was considering peace talks in response Prime Minister Yousef Gilani’s offer of a peace agreement with the Pakistani Taliban.
“The TTP [Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan] welcomes the prime minister’s offer,” Faqir told The Express Tribune on Oct. 3. “We want direct talks with the government and not through intermediaries.”
Faqir insisted that the Pakistani government must end its relationship with the US and implement “an Islamic state” in order for a peace agreement to take hold.
“We have always had serious doubts about Pakistan-US relations,” Faqir told the newspaper. “The United States has never been sincere to Pakistan or Muslims in general.”
“We will continue to fight till the establishment of an Islamic state,” he continued. “But if our demands are met and an Islamic justice system is established in Pakistan, which is our country, we will lay down our weapons because we are peace-loving people.”
The Pakistani Taliban’s overtures for peace talks appear to be encouraged by the Haqqani Network, according to The News. Khalil Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the patriarch of the family, has reached out to elements of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and urged them to make peace with the government. Khalil is on the US’s list of specially designated global terrorists. Although the Pakistani government is said to have arrested Khalil last year, US officials have told The Long War Journal that Khalil was only in protective custody.
The Haqqanis, who are closely tied to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, are known to mediate disputes between various terror groups in the region.
Over the past several years, the Pakistani government and the military have cut numerous peace deals with the Taliban, only to have them collapse. The peace agreements, which have been struck throughout the tribal areas and in Swat and other settled districts in the northwest, required the Taliban to accept the writ of the state and eject “foreigners,” or al Qaeda and allied groups, from their areas. But the Taliban have refused to abide by the agreements, and instead have established mini-Islamic emirates while continuing to expand their control into neighboring areas.
Peace agreements are still in effect in South Waziristan in areas controlled by Mullah Nazir, and in North Waziristan with Hafiz Gul Bahadar; both Nazir and Bahadar are considered “pro-government Taliban” by the Pakistani military and government as they do not advocate attacks against the state. Yet these two commanders continue to shelter al Qaeda and other terror groups, and conduct attacks inside Afghanistan.
The statements by Waliur Rehman and Faqir occur as relations between US and Pakistan have reached a nadir. Factors contributing to the deterioration in relations include the increase in US drone strikes over the past several years against Pakistan-based terrorists, last winter’s Raymond Davis affair in which a CIA contractor was freed after killing two Pakistanis, and the May 2 raid by special operations forces in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. And more recently, US officials have accused Pakistan of supporting and directing attacks in Afghanistan by the Haqqani Network and the Taliban.
Striking a peace agreement with the Pakistani government would allow the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan to increase its efforts against NATO and Afghan forces across the border. The Taliban have been raiding Pakistani border towns in the northwest; one such raid took place today in Upper Dir.
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