Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif seeks Taliban talks despite attacks

Security officials cordon off the site of a suicide blast in Rawalpindi, 20 January 2014 The Taliban mounted a string of attacks in January, such as this one near army HQ in Rawalpindi

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said he still wants to hold peace talks with the Taliban, despite a wave of deadly attacks in recent months.

Mr Sharif named a four-member team to pursue negotiations with the militants.

In a rare address to the National Assembly, he said "terrorism" must be defeated, either by talks or force, and he was giving peace a last chance.

Pakistan's Taliban vowed more attacks after their leader was killed last year but say they are considering the offer.

Hakimullah Mehsud died in a US drone strike in November - his successor, Mullah Fazlullah, ruled out peace talks and promised revenge.

To many people in Pakistan the country's political leaders appear impotent in the face of the militant threat as the attacks have soared, correspondents say.

Mr Sharif, who was elected last May, is under mounting pressure to try to bring the violence under control.

"I am sure the whole nation would be behind the government if and when we launch a military operation against the terrorists - but I want to give peace a final chance," he told members of parliament in a televised speech.

He said he, too, was tired of the attacks and he would do everything possible to bring peace.

Veteran journalists Rahimullah Yusufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major in the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah, will lead dialogue efforts and report back to the interior minister.

No timeframe was set for the talks to be held - and the prime minister stopped short of announcing any tough preconditions for negotiations.

Pakistan Taliban (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid welcomed the move by Mr Sharif and said the militants' central shura, or council, was meeting to consider the talks offer.

"We are ready for meaningful negotiations provided the government shows sincerity of purpose," he said, the AFP news agency reports.

Internally displaced Pakistani civilians, fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in North Waziristan, arrive in Bannu, a town on the edge of Pakistan"s lawless tribal belt of Waziristan on January 21, 2014. Bombing in North Waziristan has forced many people to flee with their families to safety

Mr Sharif's call for talks seems to have exposed divisions within the Taliban. The militants' leader in Punjab province, Asmatullah Muawiya, was quick to say he would take part in talks.

"We trust the negotiators nominated by the Pakistani government. We will participate in these talks, and also consult with other groups and persuade them to join the talks," he told BBC Urdu's Asif Farooqi.

He promised his fighters would end attacks once talks started, and added: "I am confident that the reaction of the TTP and Maulana Fazlullah will not be any different from us."

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who chairs the opposition Pakistan People's Party and has called for military action against the Taliban, accused Mr Sharif of appeasing the militants.

"Support NS (Nawaz Sharif). I want him to be our Churchill. Unfortunately he is becoming our Neville Chamberlain pursuing policy of appeasement," tweeted Mr Bhutto Zardari, the son of former PM Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in a 2007 gun and bomb attack blamed on the Taliban.

Pakistani politicians' repeated offers of talks with the militants have so far come to nothing.

Scores of people have been killed this month alone, many of them soldiers, as the militants attacked military and civilian targets across the country. The death toll has called into question Pakistan's strategy for dealing with militancy.

Some observers say a lack of concerted military action meant that an opportunity to take advantage of apparent militant divisions following Hakimullah Mehsud's death in early November was missed.

There is now a limited military operation in the North Waziristan tribal area.

But correspondents doubt the government and military in Islamabad want to launch a larger offensive at this stage in the militants' main sanctuary near the Afghan border.

Analysts believe Pakistan sees many of the militants based in North Waziristan as a "strategic asset" in a year when foreign combat forces are leaving its neighbour.

Map

More on This Story

More Asia stories

RSS

Features

  • RihannaCloud caution

    After celebrity leaks, what can you do to safeguard your photos?


  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Rack of lambFavourite feast

    Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?


  • Members of staff at James Stevenson Flags hold a Union Jack and Saltire flag UK minus Scotland

    Does the rest of the UK care if the Scots become independent?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.