Published — Thursday 10 October 2013
Last update 13 November 2013 6:08 am
WAZIRISTAN: The Pakistani Taleban envoy drew his white trousers up before settling on the floor of a mud-walled house in Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal region near the Afghan border.
Bodyguards, their long hair spilling out from traditional flat caps, listened warily for the occasional sound of a drone aircraft overhead.
Carefully, Shahidullah Shahid laid out the conditions for peace talks with the Pakistani government: Release all Taleban prisoners, withdraw the army from the tribal areas where the Taleban are entrenched, and stop US drone strikes.
The Pakistani Taleban, an umbrella group of factions operating independently from their Afghan Taleban allies, are fighting to set up an Islamic state in Pakistan but the government is trying to negotiate a peace settlement to end years of fighting.
“Drones really stop us from moving freely in the area,” Shahid, the main spokesman for the Pakistani Taleban, told a small group of reporters on a recent visit to Waziristan.
“But even if our enemies use an atomic bomb, we would not stop our jihad.”
Despite the government’s push for talks, violence has risen sharply since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power in a May election. Churches, buses and markets have all been hit, reflecting the Taleban’s resolve to keep fighting.
Shahid said, there had been no direct peace contacts between Sharif’s representatives and the Taleban. Taleban officials who escorted Reuters on the trip requested that the exact location of the interview not be revealed.
Pakistan sponsored the rise of the Taleban in neighboring Afghanistan in the 1990s but now faces its own home-grown insurgency. It is keen to find a lasting solution to the problem which has devastated communities and ruined the economy.
“At the start of negotiations, you don’t threaten them, you speak from a position of strength but you don’t try to irritate them,” Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s foreign policy chief, said last month.