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Asia

Pakistani PM gives 'another chance' to Islamists

Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif has come under fire for preferring peace talks over military action against the Taliban. Experts say Islamabad lacks strategy to deal with the militants, who are getting stronger by the day.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has once again announced his government's decision to begin talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Previous efforts by Islamabad to initiate dialogue with the militants didn't succeed due to a lack of trust between the two sides.

Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid responded to Sharif's peace offer by saying that his organization was ready for "meaningful negotiations" provided the government showed "sincerity of purpose."

Sharif called on the Pakistani Taliban - also known as the Tekrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - to observe the ceasefire, and condemned the insurgents for targeting security forces and civilians in recent months.

"It is necessary for the success of the talks to start this process with good intentions, and it demands that the acts of terrorism be immediately stopped. Talks and terrorism cannot go side by side," Sharif told the country's lawmakers on Wednesday, January 29. "We want to give peace another chance," the PM added.

Militant Islamists bombed a bus carrying minority Shiites in Pakistan's Balochistan province (Photo: DW/Abdul Ghani Kakar)

On January 21, a passenger bus carrying 51 Shiite pilgrims from Iran to Pakistan was attacked by militants

However, just hours before the Prime Minister's speech, the Taliban had carried out three bomb blasts including a suicide attack targeting security forces in the country's commercial hub of Karachi. According to the AFP, 114 people have been killed in Pakistan since the start of the year.

Sharif's decision to pursue the peace talks came as a surprise to many Pakistanis who were hoping the government would launch a full-scale military operation after sporadic attacks against militants in the restive North Waziristan region.

Concessions to militants

After returning to power in 2013, Sharif made clear his government would not follow the previous government's anti-terrorism policy and would instead make peace with militants, including the Taliban.

Critics of the government, however, are against the talks. They believe that concessions to extremists will only embolden them. They also point out that there are multiple factions of the Taliban, and that nobody knows who the real representatives of the Islamists are.

But Khalid Rehman, the head of the non-governmental Institute of Policy Studies in Islamabad, believes the government's intelligence agencies know very well which groups they should talk to.

"It is obvious that the government has resources to identify these groups. We, however, don't expect the government to reveal the identity of these factions and their leaders as it would go against the spirit of negotiations," Rehman told DW.

But Himayat Ullah, an opposition member in the National Assembly (lower house of the Pakistani parliament), says the Taliban cannot be trusted. "The Taliban breached all peace deals in the past. These negotiations actually give the militants time to prepare and launch more attacks on civilians and security forces," Ullah told DW, adding the military operation was the only way to deal with extremists.

Nizamuddin Nizamani, a political analyst and researcher in Karachi, also believes the government does not need to negotiate with "terrorists," and that they should be "eliminated."

"The government might be interested in negotiating with the militants, but the Taliban and their allies have shown no real interest in the proposed talks so far. On the contrary, they have intensified their attacks," said Nizamani.

A powerful committee?

Sharif named a four-member committee to facilitate negotiations with the militants. The body is made up of Rahimullah Yousufzai, a journalist and expert on the Taliban; Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan's former ambassador to Afghanistan; Mohammed Amer, a retired intelligence officer; and Irfan Siddiqui, a journalist.

Supporters of Imran Khan, head of opposition party Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), attend a rally to block NATO supplies to neighboring Afghanistan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 23 November 2013 (Photo: EPA/ARSHAD ARBAB)

Many political parties in Pakistan favor the talks with the Taliban

Akhunzada Chattan, a member of parliament from the northwestern Bajur Agency, says the "tribal elders" have been working very hard to establish peace in the northwestern areas. However, he is disappointed that the government has not consulted them while forming the peace committee.

For his part, Himayat Ullah doubts the peace committee would be able to convince the Taliban to lay down weapons and engage in meaningful discussion with the government.

Experts believe Pakistan's civilian government and lawmakers do not have much of a say on security and foreign policy matters, and it is the Islamic Republic's powerful army which calls the shots on these issues. In this context, they point out that it is not clear whether the Sharif's latest peace offer to the Taliban has the backing of the Pakistani military.