PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Government-appointed negotiators have met with the Pakistani Taliban three times in the past month to discuss a possible peace deal, two tribal elders and a militant commander said Monday.
Reports of the talks, which those involved described as preliminary, were the first to surface since a national political summit endorsed negotiations as the preferred way to curb militant violence in Pakistan. But a Taliban spokesman denied that any meetings had taken place.
The Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group that is an offshoot of the Afghan organization, wages a deadly war on the state and civilians from its base in a semiautonomous tribal region of Pakistan, and numerous army offensives have failed to quell it. Those operations have been aided by billions of dollars in U.S. funding for Pakistan’s army, which has been urged by American officials to combat — not talk to — militants who are on Pakistani soil.
The militant commander, who spoke by telephone from the Waziristan tribal region, said that the talks involved a government-backed delegation of tribal elders and clerics and that the Taliban had nominated Wali ur-Rehman — a deputy to top Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud — to represent it. Rehman participated in one meeting, the commander said.
Two tribal elders confirmed his account. All three spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their lives. Government and security officials reached Monday declined to confirm the meetings, which were first reported by the Reuters news agency.
Even if talks are occurring, their potential is far from clear. Many Pakistani analysts doubt the intentions of the Taliban, whose professed goal is to overthrow the state and institute a system of Islamic law. Numerous past peace deals have collapsed, often after the militants violated the terms of the agreements, and some have given insurgents space to regroup.
The militant commander said the Taliban’s demands are high. The group wants the withdrawal of the army from the tribal regions, the release of all jailed insurgents and compensation for civilians whose homes were damaged in military operations, he said.
In a recent interview, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government was open to negotiating with the Taliban, but he said fighters must first lay down their weapons.
The Pakistani Taliban coexists and sometimes cooperates with Afghan Taliban factions, which also operate out of Pakistan’s tribal areas but direct attacks against NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan. The United States has pushed Pakistan to strike hard against the Afghan groups, a demand that has deepened tension in the bilateral relationship.
Khan is a special correspondent. Correspondent Karin Brulliard in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.