ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Taliban movement, the country’s biggest security threat, has suggested it would consider peace talks with the U.S.-backed government, a local newspaper reported Monday.
Pakistani leaders said after an all-party meeting attended by top military and intelligence officials last month they would seek reconciliation with militants to end an insurgency.
And Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was quoted by newspapers as saying the government was ready to talk peace.
“Our shura (council) will decide whether and when can we enter into talks with the government, with the military,” the Express Tribune quoted Maulvi Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud, deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban, as saying.
“But I think we would like to involve countries we trust ... they are in the Arab world. Let’s say Saudi Arabia.”
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan (TTP), which is close to al Qaeda, was formed in December 2007 as an alliance of Pakistani militant groups to attack the Pakistani state.
It has been blamed for many of the suicide bombings across Pakistan.
Several army offensives against the group’s strongholds on the Afghan border have failed to weaken its campaign. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers, policemen and civilians have been killed in the conflict.
“Until now, we don’t have any direct peace offer ... our shura will sit down when we are approached. That is how we operate. There is one centralized body to take important decisions,” the newspaper quoted Mehsud as saying on its website.
Any shift toward reconciliation with the TTP could anger Washington.
Last year, the United States added the TTP to its list of foreign terrorist organizations and set rewards for information leading to the capture of two of its leaders.
Ties are already heavily strained by the unilateral U.S. special forces raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town in May, and American accusations that Islamabad supports militants who attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The TTP also has ambitions to strike Western targets abroad. The group claimed responsibility for the failed bomb plot in New York’s Times Square last year and is increasingly seen as a direct threat to the United States.
U.S. prosecutors charged TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud for a plot that killed seven CIA employees at a U.S. base in Afghanistan in 2009.
Past deals with the TTP have failed to bring stability and gave the group space to impose their harsh version of Islam in areas that were ceded to it by the government.
Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sugita Katyal