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Taliban must give up arms first before dialogue: Malik

19 October, 2011

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will only hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents if they lay down their arms first, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Tuesday, after both sides signalled willingness to consider negotiations.

"The minimum agenda is that they give up arms and come forward and then there will be talks. But if they think they will keep Kalashnikovs in their hands and also hold talks, that will not happen," he told reporters. Both sides have indicated recently they were open to talks, but analysts are sceptical the Taliban will ultimately agree.

"We have received messages from banned outfits and militant organisations for reconciliation and we have conveyed these messages to our leadership," Malik told reporters in Quetta. Malik refused to disclose which militants he was talking about. Asked whether these reconciliation messages were coming from the Taliban or Baloch rebels, he replied: "It is purely confidential." "The prime minister has also clearly stated that reconciliation is possible only with those who lay down their arms," he added.

"The government is saying accept the constitution and lay down arms. But the militants have other aims. They want to take over, gain power. They think negotiations are a joke," said security analyst Mahmood Shah. "How can you talk to groups that don't even respect the concept of Pakistan, never mind laying down arms?" The Tehreek-e-Taliban has been waging a campaign of attacks including suicide bombings across the country since 2007 in a bid to topple the US-backed government. A series of army offensives against Pakistani Taliban strongholds along the rugged mountainous border with Afghanistan has failed to contain the group, which is close to al Qaeda and is the biggest security threat to Pakistan.

Any deals with the Taliban could anger Washington, which has been pushing Pakistan to crack down harder on militant groups since American special forces killed Osama bin Laden in May in a Pakistani town, where he had apparently been living for years. Ties between uneasy allies the United States and Pakistan have been heavily strained since then. Last year, the United States added the TTP to its list of foreign terrorist organisations and set rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of its leaders.

Past peace deals with the group failed to improve security, and instead enabled it to build up strength and impose its harsh version of Islam in areas ceded to it. Beheadings, public executions and lashings were common. Pakistan faces threats from multiple militant groups, whose suicide bombings have kept foreign investors away from one of the most unstable countries in the world.

Meanwhile, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Tuesday said that Pakistan Army had no objection over the government having dialogues with Taliban, a private TV channel reported.

Briefing the parliamentary defence committees at General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Kayani said that he had no intention to send troops to North Waziristan prior to the government orders.

Kayani further said that he had informed the US that Pakistan did not require any military aid of any kind and that there would be no compromise on national sovereignty in bilateral ties of the two countries. He mentioned that the defence budget was decreasing every year due to inflation and the army had received only $ 0.2 billion of agreed $ 6 billion from the US.

Earlier, a security briefing was given to Senate and National Assembly Standing Committees on Defence and Defence Production at General Headquarters on Tuesday.


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