A senior Pakistani Taliban commander welcomed the government’s recent offer to hold peace talks, raising the possibility the militant group has changed its stance after shunning negotiations earlier this year.
Asmatullah Muawiya, head of the Taliban’s faction of fighters from central Punjab province, said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “demonstrated political maturity” by reiterating his offer to hold peace talks in a speech on Monday.
“If the present government takes an interest in solving matters seriously and with prudence, then there is no reason why jihadi forces active in Pakistan shouldn’t respond to it positively,” Muawiya said in a statement sent to journalists on Thursday.
The main Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, said Muawiya was expressing his own opinion but was closely tied to the group’s leadership. Shahid said the leaders had not yet made a decision about whether to re-engage on peace talks. The leadership will hold a meeting on Friday to discuss Mr. Sharif’s offer, but will never agree to lay down their arms, said Shahid.
Muawiya praised the government’s decision on Sunday to halt all state executions temporarily, just days ahead of the planned hangings of several al-Qaeda-linked militants.
The Prime Minister “strengthened the wish of peace by suspending punishment for prisoners,” Muawiya said.
The previous government had put in place a moratorium on executions. The current government initially indicated it would end that moratorium, but said that executions were halted until Mr. Sharif held talks with President Asif Ali Zardari.