Pakistani Taliban's fugitive leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad has said that he is holding peace talks with the government and a deal could be signed by the two sides "very soon", a claim rejected by local authorities and another militant commander.
Mohammad said the government had released 145 militants as a goodwill gesture and halted military operation in Bajaur Agency, one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal districts along the border with Afghanistan. In return, the militants had pledged a ceasefire, he told several reporters in Peshawar yesterday from an unknown location.
"Talks with the government are in progress and both sides are likely to sign a peace deal very soon," he told the media. "We have no wish to fight against our armed forces and destroy our country. If the government stops killing its own people and pulls out of the United States-led war against humanity, then there is no need for us to fight against the state," he said.
However, another militant commander who introduced himself as Mullah Dadullah and claimed to be the Taliban leader in Bajaur Agency rejected Mohammad's statement and denied peace talks were being held with the government. He said it was Mohammad's personal decision to enter into talks with the government and this should not be considered the unanimous decision of the Taliban in Bajaur or the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.
Fazal Karim Khattak, the additional chief secretary for the tribal areas, too denied peace talks or contacts with the militants. "Faqir Mohammad's claim is baseless and a pack of lies," he said.
The government will hold talks only with those people who surrender weapons and give up militancy, Khattak said.
Mohammad told one reporter that the negotiations with the government were going in the right direction. "If we succeed in signing a peace agreement in Bajaur, then the Taliban in other places such as Swat, Mohmand, Orakzai, Darra Adam Khel, Kurram and South Waziristan tribal regions will ink peace accords with the government in their respective areas," he said.
The proposed peace deal in Bajaur agency will be a "role model for other areas" and if the talks are fruitful, the same formula will be applied in all areas where the Taliban are fighting the government and armed forces, Mohammad said.
Mohammad appeared to give the impression that the government and Taliban would soon sign a peace agreement in Bajaur Agency to pave the way for negotiations and subsequent accords in other troubled areas, The News Daily reported.
In Bajaur Agency, Mohammad said, the government and Taliban had stopped fighting to give peace a chance and to enable a 'jirga' or council of tribal elders and some government and security officials to find a peaceful settlement.
The steps taken by the government in a recent All Parties Conference had helped restore the trust of Taliban groups in state institutions, Mohammad said. The Taliban were earlier reluctant to seriously consider peace offers as the government had lost its credibility by arresting senior Taliban commanders in Swat after they were invited for talks, he added.
Asked about denials regarding the peace talks by the Taliban leadership and its spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, Mohammad said the central militant leadership had unanimously decided that initially the Taliban in Bajaur would hold talks with the government and if their negotiations proved successful, then the Taliban in other areas would negotiate with the government.
Mohammad said the government had made "changes in polices towards the Taliban and tribal regions and seemed to be serious" about peace talks. He felt the government had realised there was "no military solution to the conflict in Pakistan as the Taliban had picked up guns for a cause".
The government will have to show flexibility and restore trust of the Taliban groups by releasing prisoners and stopping military operations in the tribal belt, he said.
Mohammad fled Bajaur Agency after the military launched an operation there in August 2008 and he now operates from Kunar province of Afghanistan.
In an apparent reference to Pakistan's Shamsi airbase, he said the Taliban wanted Pakistan's airspace, sea and land to be controlled and used by Pakistani people and not by another Islamic country, an obvious reference to the United Arab Emirates. "Pakistan has given this airbase to the UAE, which gave it to the US and they used it for their unmanned spy planes to kill thousands of innocent Pakistani people in the tribal areas," he said.