ISLAMABAD - At its maiden meeting on Tuesday, the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) reaffirmed the government’s commitment to the strategy of carrying out talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and using other options only as a last resort. On the other hand, the Taliban quickly expressed their abhorrence of talks and love for war.

The committee which met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the chair discussed three key issues, including formulation of national security strategy to safeguard Pakistan’s national interests, strategy on internal security and relations with Afghanistan.

The committee also deliberated upon the government’s strategy to engage various groups of Pakistani Taliban to address the issues of extremism and militancy and directed the ministries concerned to take measures to facilitate regional peace and stability.

The committee agreed that the economic development and prosperity of the people was linked to ensuring security and stability in the country. It agreed on a number of measures concerning enhancement of security on western border, development of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and other bordering areas to bring them at par with national standards. It directed the ministries concerned to take measures to facilitate regional peace and stability.

The prime minister apprised the committee of his recent visit to Kabul. He said a number of steps were settled with Afghanistan on political security and economic and commercial cooperation. It was also decided that Pakistan would cooperate with Afghanistan and help it in the ongoing reconciliation process with Afghan Taliban.

The DGs of Military Operations and ISI briefed the committee on the issues related to national security. The interior secretary also gave a briefing on the peace and security situation in the country.

The committee deliberated on the recently-prepared draft of the national security policy and also discussed the issue of drone attacks and relations with the United States. The committee members expressed complete unanimity on the national security issues.

Sources privy to the meeting told The Nation that the government was quite optimistic about success of its peace efforts in the light of back-channel contacts with militants and hoped it would be able to disarm all of them. The meeting decided to keep the talks process secret for security reasons and pay no heed to Taliban’s tough rhetoric.

“Their public posturing is different from what is going on in the background,” sources said of the Taliban, adding they wanted to appear to be tough, but back channels showed they were also interested in talks.

The meeting was attended by Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Interior Minister Ch Nisar, Adviser to PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant to PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Chairman General Rashad Mahmood, Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Asif Sandilla, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, the ISI director general and secretaries of the ministries of foreign affairs and interior.

Under Mullah Fazlullah, the incumbent TTP chief, Taliban fighters took over Pakistan’s Swat Valley, imposing austere Islamic rule and eventually prompting the army to launch a major offensive to flush them out of the strategic region just 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Islamabad.

Fazlullah, who fled to Afghanistan after the 2009 operation, has now returned to his homeland to lead the insurgency. He was named the leader last month after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike on Nov 1.

Agencies add:  Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan on Tuesday rejected peace talks with the government. Its chief Mullah Fazlullah has pledged to step up attacks as part of his campaign to topple the central government and establish his own version of Sharia rule in Pakistan.

“Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It’s powerless and dollar-hungry,” said Shahidullah Shahid, Taliban spokesman.

He told Reuters the Taliban had information that plans were already under way for a state military operation, saying the Taliban were ready for battle.

“They should happily launch a military operation against us. We have seen their military operations in the past and would like them to start this long-awaited operation,” he said defiantly.

Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban’s new hardline leader, says peace talks are meaningless and has pledged to step up attacks as part of his campaign to topple the central government and establish Islamist rule in Pakistan.

The emergence of Mullah Fazlullah as TTP’s new hardline leader has prompted speculation that Pakistan might have to ditch hopes for a negotiated ceasefire and resort to military action against militants holed up in lawless ethnic Pashtun areas on the Afghan border.

Nicknamed “Mullah Radio” for his fiery broadcasts in Swat, Fazlullah is best known for ordering the assassination of teenage female education activist Malala Yousafzai. She survived the attack and now lives in Britain.

Fazlullah has now promised a new campaign of shootings and bombings against the government, particularly in the densely populated Punjab – Sharif’s political powerbase.

But, a month after he took over as the Taliban chief, there have been no major attacks in Pakistan.