Pakistan Taliban head Hakimullah Mehsud 'open to talks'

 

The BBC's John Simpson has this assessment of the different Taliban groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has told the BBC he is open to "serious talks" with the government but says he has not yet been approached.

In a rare interview, he denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places but said he would continue to target "America and its friends".

The chief loosely controls more than 30 militant groups in the tribal areas.

After being elected PM in May, Nawaz Sharif announced he would open unconditional talks with the Taliban.

The group has killed thousands of people in its war against the Pakistani state in recent years.

They control areas in the north-west and have been blamed for a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks.

'End drone strikes'

At the scene

When I met Mehsud, I stayed for two days. I was surprised at his appearance. I assumed he was unwell because of his living conditions and perhaps the fear of being hunted. He has also not been seen in person or on TV for more than a year.

However, he was in good health. Drones hovered above us and came down very low. This terrified me but he remained very calm and said with a smile: "Don't be afraid, we all have to die one day." He was very relaxed in the time I spent with him.

In the compound were some 70 men. They had travelled there to discuss internal tribal issues, grievances and regional conflict. It was clear he is powerful, feared and respected among the Taliban. He holds these daily meetings with tribal members to provide leadership and give direction on where attacks will occur.

On the journey to meet Mehsud I talked to shopkeepers, drivers and civilians. They all hoped the talks would end their decade-long economic and security problems.

While some in the Taliban still suspect the talks are a trick to lure them into arrest, many are more positive, given the government's repeated requests for negotiations. Last week, the Taliban supreme council sent a letter to all factions to seek their views on the talks. They are still awaiting the results.

The interview with Hakimullah Mehsud was conducted by the BBC's Ahmed Wali Mujeeb this month in an undisclosed location in the north-western tribal areas.

Asked about the possibility of peace talks with the government, Mehsud said: "We believe in serious talks but the government has taken no steps to approach us. The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions."

Mehsud said he was not prepared to discuss conditions through the media.

"The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions."

Leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud: "The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions"

Mehsud said he would guarantee the security of any government negotiators.

He said that for any ceasefire to be credible "it is important that drone strikes are stopped".

The second-in-command of the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Waliur Rehman, was reportedly killed in a suspected US drone strike in May.

When pressed on why previous peace initiatives had failed, Mehsud blamed the government.

He said: "The government of Pakistan bombs innocent tribal people due to the pressure of America... Drone strikes conducted by Americans were [backed] by Pakistan. Then the Americans pressed Pakistan to start ground operations in these areas, and Pakistan complied.

"So the government is responsible for past failures."

Mehsud has a $5m FBI bounty on his head and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.

But in the interview he denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places.

He said: "We consider the safety of Muslims, of scholars, of mosques and madrassas as our sacred duty.

Hakimullah Mehsud

  • Became overall leader of Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after his predecessor died in a US drone strike
  • Masterminded campaign against Nato convoys in Khyber tribal region and Peshawar
  • Emerged as a prominent fighter after reputedly leading a raid that captured 300 soldiers
  • US authorities maintain a $5m on his head

"As for explosions which cause damage to the life and property of Muslims, we have denied any link in the past, we deny any link today."

Mehsud added: "We have targeted those who are with the infidels, America, and we will continue to target them."

When asked again whether there would be any conditions for talks, Mehsud said he would not discuss this in the media.

However, when asked about the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan at the end of next year, he said: "America is one of the two reasons we have to conduct a jihad against Pakistan. The other reason is that Pakistan's system is un-Islamic, and we want it replaced with an Islamic system.

"This demand and this desire will continue even after the American withdrawal."

Escalating attacks

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says that whether it is the imminent withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan or the Pakistani government's moves to open dialogue, there is an impression that the militants of this region feel that they have the upper hand.

It is clear that Hakimullah Mehsud believes he can now call the shots, he says.

Map

As far as denying bomb attacks, our correspondent says that either the Taliban did carry them out or Mehsud is not in control of the militants - so in either case the question is, why bother talking to him?

After Mr Sharif's announcement that the government would open unconditional talks with the militants, the Taliban issued a list of demands, including the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law).

Attacks on the security forces have continued, prompting army chief Gen Pervez Kayani to warn that the military would not allow the Taliban to set conditions for peace.

Violent attacks on public places escalated last month, with the north-western city of Peshawar the worst hit.

The bombing of a church in September left dozens dead, while more than 40 were killed a week later in an attack on a market in the city.

Death claims

Author Ahmed Rashid: "It's a very triumphal interview"

Hakimullah Mehsud came to prominence in 2007 as a commander under then Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, with the capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers adding to his prestige among the militants. He led a campaign of attrition against the Pakistani army and Nato convoys heading to Afghanistan.

After Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009, Hakimullah was appointed leader.

Several claims of his death made by US and Pakistani intelligence sources have proven untrue.

There remains great suspicion among Western powers that any peace moves with the Taliban simply give the militants more time to regroup.

Pakistan's interior and foreign ministry were contacted about Hakimullah's interview but declined to comment.

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1028.

    1019 - your comment triggers so many questions - two of them would be -

    How in the 21st century does he have slaves (believer or not) to release?
    How do you accidentally kill someone? - if you commit (or plan) an act where death is likely to result - then you are responsible for the deaths!

    And presumably if he can't comply with the precepts you noted - he goes to hell?? Sincerely hope so!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1027.

    1002.CURTAINS 2012
    Until you've watched an elderly Ethiopian woman with 30-40 kg of tinder sticks on her back walking up hill, with her huband riding along on a donkey behind her, carrying his umbrella as a shade from the 50degree heat, you can't comprehend the callousness.
    In Khartoum, thousands of Southern Sudanese women are enslaved as domestic cooks/cleaners on zero pay - just food & water.

  • Comment number 1026.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1025.

    This must be the best HYS there has ever been. I have read many of the comments. Well done BBC and commenters.

    I would like to see our servants, and that includes the opposition, making comments on HYS.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1024.

    @1018. beammeup
    @1013 DaveM
    --------------
    Dear Dave....there are many problems faced by people today. We are not all just one story but many. Some heroic, some not. You have strayed from the subject and so have I but I can't figure out what I wrote for you to decide to intentionally be hurtful. Beam
    --
    Don't be silly Beam, you went out of your way to be hurtful.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1023.

    Sorry but i would completely rule out any form of negotiations with these people, there views and beliefs are quite simple...YOU WILL DIE FOR WHAT I BELIEVE IN....BLOW EM UP!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1022.

    This is great thing indeed.
    One terrorist talks to another;
    Third one is watching
    Fourth one is learning
    Fifth . . .
    Bottom line - can you name them all?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1021.

    How is the world ever going to progress to unity when people like the Taliban and Al Queda are hell bent on destruction? Sad, so so sad!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1020.

    Anyone with any sense would hate America. Its foreign policy absolutely stinks. It will happily keep in power and trade with evil dictatorships if they supply them with black gold. Look at Americas relationship with the imbeciles in charge of Saudi Arabia. America is the worst country in the world that lacks simple values, morals and basic manners.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1019.

    1011.frankslad


    so does he really think he can stand before his God (if he get's there) - and say - he never caused the death of another Muslim?

    +++

    To comply with the Koran he has to release a slave who is a believer (in Mohamed) each time he accidentally kills another believer.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1018.

    @1013 DaveM
    --------------
    Dear Dave....there are many problems faced by people today. We are not all just one story but many. Some heroic, some not. You have strayed from the subject and so have I but I can't figure out what I wrote for you to decide to intentionally be hurtful. Beam

  • Comment number 1017.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1016.

    1002.CURTAINS 2012

    Correct.

    I've lived in Eritrea/Ethiopia & Sudan. It's hard for Western society to comprehend that if a man has a wife, donkey, goat, hen & a sheep, then the pecking order is:

    1) Man
    2) Donkey - for the man to ride
    3) Goat - for goat's milk
    4) Hen - for eggs to feed him
    5) Sheep - in case his friends need a feast.

    The woman is simply his chattel/slave/skivvy.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1015.

    Definitively a lot of people are either misinformed not informed at all, or without a clear plan, specially when their last resort is to bring "those evil Israelis" to this HYS. Stick with the Taliban news (thousands of Km away from Israel) and talk about those "kind people" shooting girls for going to school.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1014.

    Look at Pakistan. Osama was right under the noses of a military base, yet they still didn't find him with millions of dollars ploughed into their secret service or equivalent to try to find him! No wonder America cut all aid, and so they should. Just a shame we (UK) cant do the same!!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1013.

    @1006 beammeup
    How did you meet? Helping her family move off their land to build an illegal settlement?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1012.

    1009.OnlySerious
    Just now
    Before any government steps up to the plate to begin negotiations, there should be a unilateral cease fire

    +++

    Which side should cease fire, the Taliban or its opponents?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1011.

    The quote that really sticks in my throat is 'we consider the safety of Muslims as our sacred duty' .

    so does he really think he can stand before his God (if he get's there) - and say - he never caused the death of another Muslim?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1010.

    988. togetherasone - "Afghanistan has never been a peaceful muslim country".

    At least if we can get that right, we will understand that it can never be a civilized, democratic nation as we in the west understand the concept. I think my Grandad learned that fighting for the British in the Khyber Pass in the laet 1800's.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 1009.

    Before any government steps up to the plate to begin negotiations, there should be a unilateral cease fire (ALL parties and ALL targets), but especially unarmed civilians (an international War Crime issue).

    The Afghan Taliban banned television - so it hardly seems proper that this group are substantiated by BBC media. Or is it that BBC just wanted a "scoop" and arranged interviews with terrorists

 

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