LAHORE - Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has told the BBC he is open to ‘serious talks’ with the government but says he has not yet been approached.
In a rare interview on Wednesday, he denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places but said he would continue to target ‘America and its friends’.
The chief loosely controls more than 30 militant groups in the tribal areas.
The interview with Hakimullah Mehsud was conducted by the BBC’s Ahmed Wali Mujeeb this month at an undisclosed location in tribal areas.
Asked about the possibility of peace talks with the government, Mehsud said: “We believe in serious talks but the government has taken no steps to approach us. The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions.”
Mehsud said he was not prepared to discuss conditions through the media. “The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions.”
Mehsud said he would guarantee the security of any government negotiators. He said that for any ceasefire to be credible “it is important that drone strikes are stopped”.
When pressed on why previous peace initiatives had failed, Mehsud blamed the government. He said: “The government of Pakistan bombs innocent tribal people due to the pressure of America... Drone strikes conducted by Americans were [backed] by Pakistan. Then the Americans pressed Pakistan to start ground operations in these areas, and Pakistan complied.
“So the government is responsible for past failures.”
The Taliban chief denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places. He said: “We consider the safety of Muslims, of scholars, of mosques and madrassas as our sacred duty.
“As for explosions which cause damage to the life and property of Muslims, we have denied any link in the past, we deny any link today.”
Mehsud added: “Those who have faith in infidels, are friends of America and follow the system of the infidels... we have targeted them before and we will continue to target them in future.”
When asked again whether there would be any conditions for talks, Mehsud said he would not discuss this in the media.
However, when asked about the withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan at the end of next year, he said: “America is one of the two reasons we have to conduct a jihad against Pakistan. The other reason is that Pakistan’s system is un-Islamic, and we want it replaced with an Islamic system.
“This demand and this desire will continue even after the American withdrawal.”
Meanwhile, according to a private TV channel, The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister’s spokesman says ulema have started talks with the Taliban with the backing of the provincial government. However, he said in an interview that he would not like to disclose the names of those holding talks.
KP chief minister’s spokesman Sheeraz Piracha said talks with the Taliban was a very sensitive issue and he could not give a timeframe for it to start or for the restoration of peace in the troubled areas.
The decision to hold talks with the Taliban had been taken at the all-party conference on September 9. However, so far, the group(s) to be engaged could not been identified.
The ulema belonging to Wafaqul Madaris are making efforts on their own to bring the two sides across the table.
It is not clear with whom they have held the talks and what progress has been made.