Pakistani tribesmen pushing Taliban to talk peace

Tribesmen

Five years after setting up an umbrella organization to unite violent militant groups in the nation's tribal regions, the Pakistani Taliban is fractured, strapped for cash and losing support of local tribesmen frustrated by a protracted war that has forced thousands from their homes, analysts and residents of the area said.

The temperamental chief of the group known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakimullah Mehsud, recently offered to start peace talks with the government, raising the prospect of a negotiated end to Pakistan's war against insurgents in a lawless region that runs the length of the border with Afghanistan.

The group's offer of sanctuary to Afghanistan's Taliban has been one of the most divisive issues in U.S.-Pakistan relations and has confounded efforts to get the upper hand against Afghan insurgents after more than 11 years of war.

Pakistan denies providing outright military and financial help to militants fighting in Afghanistan. With 120,000 Pakistani soldiers deployed in the tribal regions, Pakistan has waged its own bloody battle against insurgents that has left more than 4,000 soldiers dead.

In interviews with analysts, residents and militant experts, Mehsud's network has emerged as a narrow collection of insurgents _ often with links to criminal gangs _ that has only limited influence in a vast tribal region overrun by scores of insurgent groups led by commanders with disparate agendas and varying loyalties.

Rather than a precursor to peace, Mehsud's offer to talk peace is an attempt to regain stature, silence critics and gain concessions from a weak government heading into nationwide elections, according to those familiar with the militant organization.

Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan has repeatedly denied reports of divisions within the TTP, including reported challenges to Mehsud's leadership.

But Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, said Mehsud's offer to talk was an attempt to divert attention from internal rifts that are ripping the organization apart and diminishing its influence. Meshud speaks for fighters restricted to his own tribe, based in North and South Waziristan, he said.

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