Pakistan rules out army action against Taliban

December 18, 2013 - 7:12:53 am
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan ruled out military action against the Taliban yesterday and promised to pursue peace only through talks, but the insurgents immediately rejected its call for negotiations.

Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban’s new hardline leader, says peace talks are meaningless and has pledged to step up attacks as part of his campaign to topple the central government and establish Islamist rule in Pakistan.

The emergence of Fazlullah has prompted speculation that Pakistan might have to ditch hopes for a negotiated ceasefire and resort to military action against militants holed up in lawless ethnic Pashtun areas on the Afghan border. But yesterday, the government said the Taliban’s tough rhetoric did not mean negotiations had failed.

“Their public posturing is different from what’s going on in the background,” said Tariq Azeem, a senior official in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team. “They want to appear tough but back channels show that they are also interested in talks.”

The Taliban immediately dismissed the concept of peace talks.

“Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It’s powerless and dollar-hungry,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman.

He said the Taliban had information that plans were already under way for a state military operation, saying the Taliban were ready for battle.

“They should happily launch a military operation against us. We have seen their military operations in the past and would like them to start this long-awaited operation,” he said defiantly. 

Under Fazlullah, Taliban fighters took over Pakistan’s Swat valley in 2009, imposing austere Islamic rule and eventually prompting the army to launch a major offensive to flush them out of the strategic region just 160km (100 miles) northwest of Islamabad. Sharif chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security yesterday where officials confirmed their commitment to talks rather than military action.

Fazlullah is best known for ordering the assassination of teenage female education activist Malala Yousafzai. She survived the attack and now lives in Britain.

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