Pakistan is holding talks with factions of the Pakistani Taliban, a banned militant group responsible for some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, and would forgive members who lay down their weapons, Prime Minister Imran Khan said Friday.
Although details of the talks were unclear, negotiations with the group known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, would be the most significant development since similar efforts failed in 2014 and Pakistan turned to a massive military operation to diminish the group.
“There are different groups which form the Pakistani Taliban, or TTP,” Khan said in an interview with the Turkish state television station TRT World. “We are in talks with some of them on a reconciliation process. We might not reach some sort of conclusion or settlement in the end, but we are talking.”
In a statement soon after Khan’s interview, the TTP called on its fighters to continue their attacks. It denied divisions in its ranks and made no acknowledgment of the ongoing talks. It also claimed responsibility for a deadly assault on a Pakistani military convoy Friday, the latest in a spate of such attacks.
Khan said the talks had been held in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban are in power after ousting the country’s U.S.-backed government in August.
The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are separate entities, although their ideologies overlap, as does their training, in religious seminaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas. While Pakistan’s military has been fighting the Pakistani Taliban, it has long been accused of nurturing the Afghan Taliban.
The Afghan Taliban’s takeover next door has provided Pakistan with an ally, and Pakistani officials have urged that the group’s government in Kabul, Afghanistan, be recognized internationally.
But some Pakistani officials also fear that the victory in Afghanistan may embolden Taliban militants at home.
Even if talks get underway in earnest, the positions of the two sides appear difficult to reconcile.
“The TTP has two main conditions for negotiations: Shariah’s implementation and the release of TTP prisoners,” said Abdul Sayed, a security specialist and researcher on militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who is based in Sweden.
“It seems quite difficult that with such hard-line demands, its negotiations with the state can proceed. Without these conditions, TTP says that meaningful dialogue cannot take place,” Sayed said.
Salman Masood c.2021 The New York Times Company
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.