DERA ISLAMIL KHAN/MIRANSHAH, Pakistan: The Pakistani Taleban say they want four well-known politicians including ex-cricketer Imran Khan to represent them in talks with the government.
The other three politicians, all from Pakistan’s right-leaning parties, indicated on local television that they might speak for the militant group. So has a fifth potential negotiator whom the Taleban say they want, a hard-line cleric.
The militant group’s Sunday statement is responding to the Pakistani government’s latest announcement to stick to its policy of a settlement through negotiations. A statement from Khan’s party, which runs the government in the Taleban’s northwestern support base and is strongly pro-negotiations, said he is not likely to accept the role but could still assist the peace process.
The announcement came days after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named a similar team to facilitate dialogue with the extremists, who have waged a deadly insurgency since 2007.
“The committee members will hold talks with their interlocutors in the government’s team on our behalf and put forth our point of view,” Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP.
Khan is joined by the chief cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and three senior religious party leaders: Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah and Professor Ibrahim Khan.
Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, has been a vocal supporter of negotiating with insurgents.
His spokesperson, Shireen Mazari, said: “Our position is very clear. We have full confidence in the committee formed by the government.”
Aziz, told AFP the committee was a “noble cause.”
“I will continue to be part of the committee if the government shows sincerity in looking into (Taleban) demands — and of course the major demand is enforcement of Sharia law in the country,” he said.
Sharif came to power last year pledging to reach out to the Taleban and engage in talks to end their seven-year insurgency.
But he has been criticised for failing to set a strategy to respond to a surge in militant violence which has resulted in 114 deaths since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally.
On Wednesday, he named a four-man committee under his special assistant Irfan Siddiqui to assist in dialogue efforts with the Taleban.
In his address to parliament Sharif called on militants to stop attacks, “because terrorism and talks cannot go side by side.”
The Taleban have said they are ready for meaningful negotiations provided the government is serious.
They have also been demanding the release of prisoners, the Pakistan army’s withdrawal from the restive tribal areas and an end to US drone strikes. Experts expressed doubt Saturday that much would come from the establishment of the two committees, suggesting the Taleban were biding their time and not committed to talks.
“The TTP’s strategy is to avoid a military action until end of 2014 when the international troops withdraw from Afghanistan,” security analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
“This will help them join hands with Afghan Taleban and focus full attention on securing control of the tribal regions.”