MIRANSHAH, Feb 10 – Taliban insurgents have set tough terms for peace talks with Pakistan’s government including the release of all imprisoned fighters and the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas, a militant source said Monday.
The Taliban outlined their demands to a team of Islamist clerics who are holding talks with the government on the militants’ behalf about ending a seven year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
Negotiating teams held a first meeting on Thursday, but the dozen conditions now laid down by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will raise further doubts about the chances of success.
A TTP commander told AFP the prisoner and troops issues were a “test case” for the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to prove its sincerity.
“This is the first round of talks. The committee members will now meet the government committee and will forward our demands, they will meet us again with a reply,” the commander said.
The team representing the TTP met the insurgents’ 10 member council in the mountainous tribal district of North Waziristan over the weekend.
The chief negotiator representing the Taliban, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, told reporters in the northwestern town of Akora Khattak the meeting had been “positive”. The next round of talks with government negotiators would take place within two days, he said.
Haq, who did not travel personally but sent a delegate in his place, added that the TTP meeting had taken place at a secret location some four hours from Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan.
“This is a war of years and years and one cannot solve it in minutes, nor can one disclose every detail of talks. We have a chance to stop the bloodshed,” he said.
Maulana Yousuf Shah, another member of the team, said that “five or six” US drones were in the sky at the time but the Taliban and the negotiation team had avoided them.
Pakistan’s military entered the tribal areas in 2003 after the US invasion in 2001 of Afghanistan, launching operations against homegrown militants and foreign fighters.
The withdrawal of troops and the release of prisoners are longstanding demands of the TTP.
The Taliban say they want security in the tribal areas taken out of the hands of the army and given to local security and administrative officials, a move which would strengthen the militants’ control.
The commander added that all of the Taliban’s estimated 4,000 prisoners including those awaiting execution must be freed.
The Taliban’s other demands included nationwide implementation of a strict form of Islamic sharia law and Islamic based education at all levels, an end to Pakistan’s military support for the United States and a halt to drone strikes, and an end to interest based banking.
There has been widespread scepticism about the chances of ending the TTP’s bloody insurgency, particularly since regional deals have quickly broken down in the past.