Quetta, Pakistan, Oct 18: Pakistan's interior minister said Tuesday that some members of the Pakistani Taliban have requested peace talks, but the government would only hold such negotiations if they first surrendered their arms.
The government's stance raises questions about the prospects for talks, despite a recent peace push by parliament. Security forces have been engaged in a bloody war with Pakistan's branch of the militant movement over the past several years, and it is unlikely the militants would give up their weapons as a precondition for negotiations in this environment.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said there would be no negotiations with insurgents who “held a Kalashnikov (rifle) in one hand.”
“The minimum agenda is that they must surrender arms and come forward,” Malik said in response to questions by reporters during a visit to Quetta, the capital of southwest Baluchistan province.
Pakistan's government is under some internal pressure to reach a deal with the insurgents, who are mostly based along the Afghan border and who have declared war on the state.
The country held a meeting of all major political parties at the end of September, in which they agreed that the government must attempt to start peace talks.
“Pakistan must initiate a dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this to be put in place,” said a resolution issued after the meeting.
The government has cut peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban in the past, but none of them have held. The agreements have been criticized for allowing the militants to regroup and rebuild their strength to resume fighting against the government and troops in Afghanistan.
Malik said his government has received messages from insurgents who want to begin talks, but he refused to give additional details.
There have been reports in the local media that various Pakistani Taliban commanders are interested in peace negotiations, but they could not be confirmed.
It is not entirely clear where Pakistan's powerful army stands on peace talks with the Taliban. The army has launched several major offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal region over the past few years, and any talks would need its backing to be successful.
A senior military official said recently that the army is not engaged in any peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban and has not approached the group to enter such negotiations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The U.S. has discouraged Pakistan from engaging local Taliban in peace talks in the past, but it's unclear whether that stance has changed given Washington's push for negotiation with the Afghan Taliban.
The U.S. has urged Pakistan to use its alleged connections with the Afghan Taliban and their allies to push them to the negotiating table, but have had little success. Analysts say one of the reasons is that Islamabad wants to play a prominent role in the negotiations, but Kabul and Washington are wary of its motives.