The Pakistani Taliban is in peace talks with the Pakistani government, a senior commander in the militant group said on Saturday. He said negotiations were “progressing well” and could soon end in a formal agreement.
The statement by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is the first time a named Taliban commander has confirmed that the group is negotiating with the Pakistani government.
But it is unclear whether he speaks for entirety of the loose-knit network, which is believed to have splintered into different factions over the last year.
Mohammad, who is recognized by many in both Pakistan’s militant movements and its government as the deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban, said his men had held “peace talks with relevant government officials.”
“They are progressing well, and we may soon sign a formal peace agreement with the government,” he said in a telephone conversation.
Asked about the alleged negotiations, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said that his government has followed a policy of “dialogue, deterrence and development” to tackle militancy.
“That is a continuing process,” he told a local television station, giving no more details.
Pakistani officials have earlier stated however that they do not talk to militants unless they lay down their arms.
Despite pushing for peace talks to end a related insurgency in Afghanistan, Washington is unlikely to support similar efforts to strike a deal in Pakistan.
U.S. forces and their NATO and Afghan allies regularly come under attack from Afghan militants and al-Qaeda operatives, who live alongside Pakistani Taliban militants in the border region.
Previous peace deals there didn’t last long, and gave militants time to rest and regroup.
Mohammad’s main area of strength is the Bajur tribal region, where the army claims to have decimated militant networks in a series of recent operations. He said any deal in Bajur could be “role model” for the rest of the border region.
The Pakistani Taliban, allied with al-Qaeda and based in the northwest close to the Afghan border, have been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last 4 1/2 years. At least 35,000 people have been killed in guerrilla attacks and army offensives.