Pakistani tribesmen pushing Taliban to talk peace

Tribesmen

"There is a lot of tension within the TTP. This peace offer I think basically comes from Hakimullah Mehsud and the Mehsud commanders,'' Rana said.

Some of his most powerful commanders have broken away and set up their own fiefdoms in other parts of the tribal area, he said.

Mehsud's fighters are believed to number in the thousands, but there are no reliable figures to measure the size of his force.

Former intelligence officials, Taliban and residents of the area say Mehsud also has a large number of foreign fighters in his North Waziristan hideouts. Many are Uzbeks and other Central Asians belonging to the outlawed Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and mostly disliked by local residents.

"The Taliban's offer for peace talks is more of a ploy to gain legitimacy and a public relations tactic than a sincere move to end violence,'' militant expert and author Zahid Hussain wrote in a local newspaper this week.

Hussain portrayed Mehsud's Taliban as killers and criminals who are demanding negotiations on their own terms, including the release of prisoners who spearheaded the 2009 Taliban takeover of the Swat region in northeastern Pakistan and who admitted beheading opponents. In brazen disregard for Pakistani law, the video in which they offered peace talks featured convicted killer Adnan Rashid, who escaped from death row during a jailbreak by the Taliban last year.

Hussain called the video a "grotesque joke'' and criticized the government's willingness to talk with Mehsud's Taliban.

"Some political leaders are shamelessly calling on the state to surrender to the very criminals who have killed thousands of Pakistanis in suicide bombings, beheaded soldiers and bombed schools,'' he said.

Two dozen political parties including the ruling Pakistan People's Party agreed in a day-long meeting Thursday to pursue talks with the Taliban, including the secular-leaning Awami National Party that rules the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province where the tribal regions are located. They didn't offer details of how they would go about it.

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