2021-10-02 16:24:45 Pakistan in Talks With Taliban Militants, Even as Attacks Ramp Up

Pakistan in Talks With Taliban Militants, Even as Attacks Ramp Up

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan is holding talks with factions of the Pakistani Taliban, a banned militant group responsible for some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, and Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday that members who lay down their weapons would be forgiven.

Although the details of the talks were unclear, negotiations with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or T.T.P., would be the most significant development since similar efforts failed in 2014, when Pakistan resorted to a massive military operation to demolish the group.

“The Pakistani Taliban, or T.T.P., is made up of various groups,” Mr. Khan explained in an interview with Turkish state television station TRT World. “We are negotiating a reconciliation process with some of them. We may or may not reach a conclusion or settlement in the end, but we are talking.”

The T.T.P. issued a statement shortly after Mr. Khan’s interview, urging its fighters to continue their attacks. It denied schisms within its ranks and made no mention of the ongoing talks. It also claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Pakistani military convoy on Friday, the latest in a string of such incidents.

Mr. Khan stated that the talks took place in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban seized power after deposing the country’s US-backed government in August.

The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are distinct entities, though their ideologies and training in religious seminaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas overlap. While Pakistan’s military has been fighting the Pakistani Taliban, it has also been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban.

The takeover of the Afghan Taliban next door has given Pakistan an ally, and Pakistani officials have urged that the group’s government in Kabul be recognized internationally.

The Taliban government’s spokespeople in Afghanistan did not respond to requests for comment on Mr. Khan’s revelation of talks in Afghanistan.

An Afghan Taliban commander familiar with the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss specifics, said his group proposed the talks to both sides and offered its assistance in bringing the two-decade conflict in Pakistan to a close.

Officials in Pakistan remained tight-lipped about the details, but two senior security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive talks suggested that the Afghan Taliban were acting as intermediaries.

Until last year, the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be significantly weakened, with their top leadership killed or driven into Afghanistan after the 2014 talks failed. While Pakistan’s subsequent military operation reduced the group’s strength, it also took a heavy toll on civilians.

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What exactly are the Taliban? The Taliban arose in 1994, in the midst of the upheaval that followed the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. To enforce their rules, they used brutal public punishments such as floggings, amputations, and mass executions. Here’s more on their history and record as rulers.

What are the Taliban’s top leaders’ names? These are the Taliban’s top leaders, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in prison, and avoiding American drones. Little is known about them or their plans for governance, including whether or not they will be as tolerant as they claim. According to one spokesman, the group wanted to forget its past, but there would be some constraints.

In addition, the Pakistani Taliban has maintained its ability to carry out ambushes, which have become more frequent in recent weeks.

Even if negotiations begin in earnest, the positions of the two parties appear difficult to reconcile.

One senior Pakistani security official stated that talks would only take place “within the confines of Pakistan’s law and Constitution,” and that the militants would face “no acceptability” if they did not accept those terms and lay down their arms.

The militant group rejects the Pakistani Constitution and has long demanded the implementation of Islamic law, or Shariah. It reiterated that stance last month when it turned down an amnesty offer from senior Pakistani officials.

“The T.T.P. has two main conditions for negotiations: Shariah implementation and the release of T.T.P. prisoners,” Abdul Sayed, a security specialist and researcher on militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan based in Sweden, explained.

“It appears quite difficult that its negotiations with the state can proceed with such hard-line demands. T.T.P. claims that meaningful dialogue cannot take place in the absence of these conditions,” Mr. Sayed said.

Mujib Mashal contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud from Islamabad.

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Pakistan in Talks With Taliban Militants, Even as Attacks Ramp Up