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Taliban says Stop Drone Strikes and We will Call a Truce

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Posted by on Thursday, October 10, 2013, 11:27
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Amidst all the hullabaloo about a peaceful end to an increasingly violent insurgency in Pakistan, the top Taliban commander said on Wednesday that he is ‘open to serious talks’ and asked the government to send a ‘jirga’ to initiate the process.

Hakimullah Mehsud

Hakimullah Mehsud

“We believe in serious talks but the government has taken no steps to approach us. The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions,” Hakimullah Mehsud told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a rare video interview on Wednesday.

Hakimullah had stepped into the shoes of Baitullah Mehsud following his death in 2009. He now heads the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, an outlawed conglomerate of more than 30 militant groups, which has been blamed for most acts of violence in the country.

Hakimullah said he wouldn’t discuss preconditions for talks through the media. “The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team [of negotiators], and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions,” he said, adding that he would guarantee the security of negotiators.

Late last month, the Wafaqul Madaris, an umbrella of Deobandi madrassas, made an impassioned appeal to the government and the Taliban to announce a truce to avoid further bloodshed.

For any ceasefire to be credible, the TTP chief told the BBC, “it is important for drone strikes to be stopped”. Hakimullah Mehsud’s deputy, Waliur Rehman, and predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, were both killed in drone strikes, and he has himself survived a missile strike by a remotely-piloted US aircraft.

Officially, Islamabad has repeatedly protested against the CIA’s highly controversial drone campaign in the tribal regions. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif raised the issue at the UN General Assembly on September 29. However, the use of unmanned aircraft is pivotal to America’s war against al Qaeda and its Taliban cohorts.

Asked why previous peace initiatives had failed, Hakimullah blamed the government. “The government bombs innocent tribal people under US pressure … Drone strikes conducted by Americans were [backed] by Pakistan. Then the Americans pressed Pakistan to start ground operations in these areas, and Pakistan complied,” he said. “So the government is responsible for past failures.”

Mehsud has a $5 million FBI bounty on his head and is thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. But in the interview he denied carrying out the recent deadly attacks in public places.

“We consider the safety of Muslims, of scholars, of mosques and madrassas as our sacred duty,” he said. “As for explosions which cause damage to the life and property of Muslims, we have denied any link the past, we deny any link today.”

Asked about the 2014 drawdown of US-led troops from Afghanistan, he said: “America is one of the two reasons we have to conduct a jihad against Pakistan. The other reason is that Pakistan’s system is un-Islamic, and we want it replaced with an Islamic system. “This demand and this desire will continue even after the American withdrawal.”

September was the deadliest month in Pakistan’s ten odd years’ fight against terrorism. Two suicide bombers struck at Peshawar’s All Saint Church, followed by the bombing of a bus carrying government employees on the edge of Peshawar and a huge car bombing in the fabled Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The string of attacks called into question the government’s initiative to make peace with the Taliban.

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