The approach has puzzled U.S. officials and renewed debate in Pakistan about how to handle insurgents who have killed thousands in attacks nationwide.
Much remains unclear about the potential for peacemaking, including which militant groups would be included or willing. But some analysts say Pakistan has lost the resolve to battle homegrown insurgents who many here view as disgruntled brethren.
“Everyone went along with what the army wanted” at the recent political summit, said Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on militancy in the northwest. “It became obvious that the military has no appetite for military operations.”
Many here express skepticism about talks, arguing that such efforts had failed in the past. But the idea is backed by Islamic parties and other political leaders.
In interviews, politicians and security officials said Pakistan views the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella insurgent group that is an offshoot of the Afghan movement, as splintered enough to be open to peace deals mediated through tribal elders or clerics. And the United States, they note, is supporting a similar approach in Afghanistan.
“If by giving a chance to peace, any terror is eliminated, it’s the best option,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a leading ruling party figure, said in an interview. He added that he had received armistice offers from militants: “They want to talk.”
Pakistan’s fragile civilian government regularly condemns terrorism, and the army has executed several operations in the country’s northwest, including against Pakistani Taliban factions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan. The battles have scattered some militant leaders, leaving the organization weakened but still capable of carrying out deadly attacks. But there is little public enthusiasm for large-scale military action, which could displace millions of people.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is jockeying for inclusion in any Afghan political settlement, which security officials here believe will bring Afghan Taliban representatives into the government. The army therefore sees little incentive to antagonize Pakistan insurgents, who commingle with their Afghan counterparts, security analysts said.
‘A focus on peace’
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called last month’s political conference as tensions with the United States soared over American allegations of Pakistani state support for the Haqqani network, an Afghan group based in the Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Participants, in a rare show of unity, unanimously rejected the U.S. claims and called for a “new direction and policy with a focus on peace and reconciliation” with “our own people in the tribal areas.”