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Taliban's peace offer viewed as 'posturing'

Date

Jason Burke

Genuine ceasefire? ... Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud has made a video statement calling for a peace deal.

Genuine ceasefire? ... Pakistan Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud has made a video statement calling for a peace deal. Photo: Reuters

The Taliban in Pakistan have said they want to negotiate a ceasefire, in a video statement by their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.

The video, delivered to Reuters in Pakistan on Friday, is the latest in a recent series of statements claiming that the group wants a peace deal, though it refuses to disarm.

Military and civilian authorities in Pakistan have repeatedly reached agreements with militants, most of which were shortlived. Experts dismissed the latest statements as ''posturing''.

Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based author and expert, said the Taliban were mounting an ''orchestrated campaign to improve [their] image'' following three high-profile attacks in Peshawar. This month several suicide bombers struck at the northern city's airport, a senior provincial politician was killed in a bombing, and on Thursday 22 paramilitary forces were kidnapped.

''They feel they have the upper hand. They have been trying to improve their image for some time through less indiscriminate attacks on ordinary people and more targeted assassinations or attacks on the police, paramilitary [forces] or politicians,'' Mr Gul said.

The Taliban are a coalition of groups founded in 2007 who have since been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistani civilians, police and servicemen. They have been linked to at least two international terrorist plots but have yet to show any serious commitment to exporting militancy beyond their immediate neighbourhood.

In a letter distributed to local news media this week, another commander of the Taliban demanded that Pakistan rewrite its laws and constitution to conform with Islamic law, break its unpopular alliance with the US, stop interfering in the war in Afghanistan, and instead focus on India to seek revenge for Pakistan's defeat in the 1971 war with its neighbour. The demands appeared designed to appeal to popular local sentiment.

There is increasing evidence that the Taliban's hold on communities along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan has weakened after the murder of elders, teachers and health workers.

Their extreme violence has revolted many ordinary Pakistanis.

However, senior police officials in Pakistan say the Taliban retain a network of active militants and supporters across much of the country, despite pressure from counter-terrorism agencies and the army and attacks from US drones.

There was no immediate response from Pakistani authorities to the Taliban video.

Mr Mehsud blamed the Pakistani government for the violence along the frontier with Afghanistan, and said his movement would follow the strategic lead of the Afghan Taliban after most NATO troops withdraw from the neighbouring country in 2014.

He reaffirmed his organisation's support for al-Qaeda, much of whose remaining senior leadership is believed to be based in Pakistan.

''We are Afghan Taliban and Afghan Taliban are us,'' he said. ''We are with them and al-Qaeda. We are even willing to get our heads cut off for al-Qaeda.''

Western intelligence experts interviewed in recent months say the exact nature of the movement's relationship with the group founded by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s is unclear but unlikely to be as close as Mehsud claims.

Guardian News & Media

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