PESHAWAR - The Pakistani Taliban on Sunday announced preconditions for talks on ending an insurgency that has killed thousands.
Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had earlier welcomed the new government’s move to begin peace talks, but said Sunday it must show its sincerity.
“First of all, troops in the entire tribal area should go back to barracks and then our prisoners should be released,” Shahid told AFP.
“The Pakistan government must take steps which can develop an atmosphere of trust and can remove the doubts and suspicion. We cannot move forward unless the government accepts these two demands.”
He was speaking after the Taliban’s shura or decision-making council, under the leadership of Hakimullah Mehsud, held three days of talks about the government offer of dialogue.
Shura members from across the country took part in the meeting and stressed the need for confidence-building measures, the spokesman said.
Shahid did not give a figure for the number of jailed insurgents and did not totally rule out peace talks if the preconditions are not met.
But he added: “The government began a war against us and the government has to announce the ceasefire if it is really sincere in peace talks.”
“We were informed of the peace talks proposal by the media, but so far no government functionary has contacted us to initiate the process,” he added.
According to Shahid, the TTP had not decided to accept the government’s offer yet. “The government is under pressure from the Army and the intelligence agencies and such agreements have wasted our precious time and badly impacted jihad,” he said. “Before we enter into any new agreement, the government must prove its sincerity through two actions: first, it must free all our prisoners, and second it must call back the military troops from the tribal areas to their pre-war positions.”
The TTP spokesman said previous peace treaties had been used to target the Taliban. “In the past, we have been deceived in the name of peace agreements — both in Waziristan and Swat — and this time we will not proceed unless we see something concrete on the ground.”
Politicians last week backed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s calls to begin talks with the Taliban. Representatives from the main coalition and opposition parties, who attended an All Parties Conference, asked the government to initiate the dialogue.
Army and intelligence chiefs also attended the conference, as did representatives of secular parties that made up the previous government and had supported military operations against the rebels.
Previous peace deals with the Taliban have quickly broken down and been sharply criticised for allowing the extremists time to regroup before fresh attacks. Pakistan says more than 40,000 people have been killed in bomb and suicide attacks staged by Taliban and Al Qaeda-led militants who oppose Islamabad’s US alliance.
The army in 2009 sent 30,000 troops to battle Taliban fighters controlled by cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who since 2007 had taken control of the scenic Swat Valley and waged a campaign of beheadings, other violence and attacks on girls’ schools.
By July 2009 the army declared the region back under control and said the rebels had all been killed, captured or fled.