ISLAMABAD Pakistan will only hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents if they lay down their arms first, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Tuesday, after both sides signaled willingness to consider negotiations.
"The minimum agenda is that they give up arms and come forward and then there will be talks. But if they think they will keep Kalashnikovs in their hands and also hold talks, that will not happen," he told reporters.
Both sides have indicated recently they were open to talks, but analysts are skeptical the Taliban will ultimately agree.
"The government is saying accept the constitution and lay down arms. But the militants have other aims. They want to take over, gain power. They think negotiations are a joke," said security analyst Mahmood Shah.
"How can you talk to groups that don't even respect the concept of Pakistan, never mind laying down arms?"
The Tehrik-e-Taliban, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan (TTP), have been waging a campaign of attacks including suicide bombings across the South Asian nation since 2007 in a bid to topple the U.S.-backed government.
A series of army offensives against Pakistani Taliban strongholds along the rugged mountainous border with Afghanistan has failed to contain the group, which is close to al Qaeda and is the biggest security threat to Pakistan.
Any deals with the Taliban could anger Washington, which has been pushing Pakistan to crack down harder on militant groups since American special forces killed Osama bin Laden in May in a Pakistani town, where he had apparently been living for years.
Ties between uneasy allies the United States and Pakistan have been heavily strained since then.
Last year, the United States added the TTP to its list of foreign terrorist organizations and set rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of its leaders.
Past peace deals with the group failed to improve security, and instead enabled it to build up strength and impose its harsh version of Islam in areas ceded to it. Beheadings, public executions and lashings were common.
Pakistan faces threats from multiple militant groups, whose suicide bombings have kept foreign investors away from one of the most unstable countries in the world.
It has yet to formulate strategies to deal with militants who simply melt away to avoid army offensives, only to reappear elsewhere.
Pakistan said Monday that Afghan and U.S-led forces had failed to hunt down a Taliban cleric responsible for a spate of cross-border raids despite repeated requests from Islamabad, a complaint likely to deepen tension between the neighbors.
The attacks in which militants loyal to Maulvi Fazlullah took part killed about 100 members of Pakistan's security forces, angering the army which faces threats from multiple militant groups.
Fazlullah was the Pakistani Taliban leader in Swat Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, before a 2009 army offensive forced him to flee.
Also known as FM Mullah for his fiery radio broadcasts, he regrouped in Afghanistan and established strongholds, and poses a threat to Pakistan once again, Pakistani army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told Reuters Monday.
(Writing by Rebecca Conway; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sanjeev Miglani)