PESHAWAR/DI KHAN/ RAWALPAINDI
The armed forces of Pakistan and Taliban militants exchanged prisoners Wednesday as a confidence-building measure ahead of possible peace talks, intelligence officials and a militant commander said.
The exchange included six militants of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and two paramilitary Frontier Corps soldiers, officials and the commander said. It occurred in the Shawal area of the South Waziristan tribal region. The militants were subsequently taken to North Waziristan, the country's main Taliban sanctuary.
Militants fired in the air with joy when their colleagues were freed, the intelligence officials said. The officials and the Taliban commander spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to journalists.
The release occurred Monday only days after Pakistan’s main political parties endorsed peace negotiations with the Taliban and their allies as the best way to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
The exchange was meant to build confidence between the government and the militants before formal peace talks, the Pakistani Taliban commander said.
The Taliban said they were open to talks at the end of last year, but withdrew that offer in May after the group’s deputy leader, Waliur Rehman, was killed in a US drone strike.
The government has struck various peace deals with the Taliban in the past, but all have fallen apart. Critics say the agreements simply gave the militants time to regroup and continue their fight against the state.
“Not only is the path well worn, it is also a path that has on every previous occasion been attempted and led to failure, mutual recrimination and renewed bloodshed,” an editorial published Wednesday in a Pakistani newspaper said.
Analysts say there are more than 100 militant groups operating in Pakistan's tribal region along the Afghan border with varying levels of allegiance.
A peace deal could worry the United States if it gives more breathing room to Afghan militants in Pakistan, who carry out cross-border attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies, but have aimed their guns at different targets. The Afghan Taliban have fought coalition forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban have taken on the government at home.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army has rejected a news report regarding swap of six TTP militants with two Frontier Corps soldiers. “Neither FC soldiers nor militants have been released,” said ISPR in a statement issued on Wednesday.