PESHAWAR – Showing flexibility, the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Sunday came up with a ‘firm response’ to a government peace offer by saying that it can hold talks if the chiefs of PML-N, JUI-F and JI acted as guarantors and if the TTP leaders were set free.
“We have no confidence in the army. To increase our confidence in the army, we want the three persons I named (PML-N President Nawaz Sharif, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl chief Fazlur Rehman and Jamaat-i-Islami Amir Munawar Hasan) as guarantors,” TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a video message sent to some television news channels.
The spokesman said their lack of confidence in the army is based on their experience as it had violated agreements signed in the past. “We do not trust the Pakistan army, it has always broken agreements in the past, even agreements we made with politicians... We need solid guarantors who can assure us about the army, because the army is the real power in Pakistan.”
Ehsan also called on the government to free three members of the Taliban’s political committee, Muslim Khan, Haji Umar (also called Maulvi Umer) and Maulana Mehmood, who had been captured by security forces. He said this was necessary so that the five-member political committee can participate in negotiations. He said if freed, Maulvi Umar and Muslim Khan would lead the Taliban delegation in the talks.
The TTP response, if taken seriously, could pave the way for much-needed reconciliation for the terror-hit nation going for general elections in few months. The patch-up with the militant organisation responsible for most of the major terrorism attacks for past several years would also ensure largely peaceful polls.
There was no immediate response from the civilian government or the military. In a video sent to journalists in December, TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million US government bounty on his head, had said his group was willing to negotiate with the government but would not disarm. But the government had said talks could be held only after the militants gave up violence.
In the seven-and-a-half-minute video, the TTP spokesman said his group had given a “firm response” to the government’s offer for talks. But government’s failure to respond timely indicated it was not serious about negotiations, he claimed. Referring to nuclear scientist Abdul Qadir Khan’s offer to act as a mediator between the Taliban and the government, Ehsan said his group would be willing to consider this proposal.
Ehsan said the Taliban had decided to confront the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition government partner and the dominant party in Karachi. He said that the MQM was responsible for the murders of religious scholars Mufti Abdul Majeed Deenpuri and Mufti Muhammad Saleh, warning that the killers would be sternly dealt with.
The spokesman claimed responsibility for a recent bomb attack on MQM workers returning from a rally and the assassination of MQM legislator Manzar Imam. Ehsan, who appeared in the video wearing a white shalwar kameez and a black waistcoat, with two masked men clad in fatigues standing behind him with assault rifles, said they would step up attacks on the MQM.
Condemning the French military intervention in Mali as an “ideological war”, Ehsan also urged the Muslim world to unite. “The French government has attacked mujahedeen in Mali and America has also agreed to support France. I ask the whole Muslim world to unite because it is an ideological war,” Ehsan said. He said the forces of “non-believers” were united and urged Muslims to come together. “If America is supporting France on an ideological basis then in same way all Muslims should unite and support one another.”
French President Francois Hollande visited Mali on Saturday and vowed his troops would stay as long as necessary to continue the fight against Islamist rebels who had taken control of the country’s north for 10 months. An offensive led by French troops has driven rebels from all but one of Mali’s major towns, but there are fears the Islamists will now wage a guerrilla campaign from the sparsely populated north.
The TTP has waged a bloody campaign against the Pakistani state in recent years and the last two months have seen a notable increase in attacks on military posts and personnel.
The group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on Saturday that killed at least 24 people at a military checkpost in Lakki Marwat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, near semi-autonomous northwestern tribal belt where militants have carved out strongholds.