POSTED: 3:34 a.m. HST, Nov 22, 2011
PESHAWAR, Pakistan » A senior Pakistani Taliban commander says the movement has declared a cease-fire and halted attacks around the country in support of nascent peace talks with the government.
The commander said late on Monday the group's cease-fire has been in effect for the past month. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not the official spokesman of the insurgent network.
But his statement adds credence to recent announcements by the Taliban that they are in peace talks with government intermediaries.
The Pakistan Taliban are behind much of the violence in Pakistan. The group is believed to be divided, with some factions still committed to war with the state.
There have been several insurgent attacks over the last month.
Earlier, a powerful militant commander who has a peace deal with the Pakistani military said his fighters would not stop army engineers building a road through territory he controls in the country's northwest, but warned locals working on the project would be killed as spies.
The statement by Hafiz Gul Bahadur shows the shaky nature of the deal he has in the Afghan border region of North Waziristan, which is home to many of the most active militant groups. It follows reports that the Pakistani Taliban, perhaps the most deadly faction there, had entered into preliminary peace talks with the government.
Bahadur and his some 4,000 fighters are a deadly foe for U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan, but do not target Pakistani troops, unlike some militant factions, including the Pakistani Taliban. This distinguishes the Bahadur group in the eyes of the Pakistani army, which has an unofficial nonaggression pact with them and other allied groups like the Haqqani Network.
Earlier this month, Bahadur threatened to abandon the deal, complaining the army had killed some of his men.
Army engineers are building new roads in the tribal regions, seeking to win over the population. The United States, which is supporting Pakistani anti-insurgency operations to reduce attacks in Afghanistan and squeeze al-Qaida, is paying for some of them. The army is building one such road through North Waziristan.
We "will not create any hurdle in their work so long as our pact is intact, but residents are restricted from contacting them, providing gravel, machinery and vehicles," the Bahadur group said in a statement, which was distributed in North Waziristan and received by The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Such people will have no protection from the holy warriors," the statement said, accusing the army of recruiting locals for spying. "They will be responsible for any losses."
Army officials were not available for comment.
The military has undertaken operations in most of the tribal regions, but has yet to do so in North Waziristan. It has several thousands troops stationed in the remote region. As well as Bahadur, the region is home to the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani network and al-Qaida operators planning and training for attacks around the world.
The United States has asked Pakistan to move into the region, but it has not done so, saying it lacks the troops. The United States routinely attacks militants there with drone-fired missiles.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for many of the hundreds of suicide attacks on army, intelligence and civilian targets around the country since 2007. It wants to oust the democratically elected, U.S.-backed government and replace it with a hardline Islamist state.
Some commanders have said recently that they are in preliminary contact with government intermediaries to discuss a possible peace deal. The government has not confirmed this. Any deal with the Pakistani Taliban would likely alarm the United States, which has criticized past deals.