Pakistani Taliban spokesman denies cease-fire

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2011 1:48 AM
Pakistani Taliban spokesman denies cease-fire

The Pakistani Taliban's spokesman on Wednesday refuted claims by other militant commanders that the group agreed to a cease-fire and exploratory peace talks with the government, raising the prospect that one of the country's deadliest terror groups is splitting into factions.

Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan backed up his claim by pointing to an attack Wednesday on a police station in the northwest that he said was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. Two officers were killed and four others were wounded, said police.

The attack came two days after a senior Pakistani Taliban commander told The Associated Press that the group declared a cease-fire across the country a month ago to encourage nascent peace talks with the government.

The conflicting statements could represent opposing positions within the Pakistani Taliban leadership about whether the group should pursue peace with the government following years of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of militants, civilians and security personnel.

A third senior Pakistani Taliban commander told the AP on Wednesday that the group has declared a cease-fire to encourage talks, but both were limited to the South Waziristan tribal area, which served as the militants' main sanctuary before the military launched a large offensive in 2009.

The two senior Pakistani Taliban commanders spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Wednesday's attack on the police station occurred in Dera Ismail Khan, a city near the border with South Waziristan. A dozen militants threw grenades at the Daraban station and then gunned down two officers inside, said police officer Sohail Khan. Four policemen were wounded, and the militants managed to escape with guns and police uniforms, said Khan.

Ehsan, the Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said the attack was proof that the group has not agreed to a cease-fire and is not in peace talks with the government.

"If we had announced a cease-fire, we would not have attacked the police station," Ehsan told the AP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

He also claimed responsibility for recent attacks on police in the Orakzai tribal region and in the city of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Even if the Pakistani Taliban leadership in South Waziristan agreed to a cease-fire, it's unclear whether all the militants claiming to be under the group's banner would obey the directive.

The Pakistani Taliban, allied with al-Qaida and based in the northwest close to the Afghan border, have been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last 4 1/2 years. At least 35,000 people have been killed in guerrilla attacks and army offensives.

The Taliban want to oust the U.S.-backed government and install a hardline Islamist regime. They also have international ambitions and trained the Pakistani-American who tried to detonate a car bomb in New York City's Times Square in 2010.

The United States, which has pounded the Taliban with missiles fired by drones, wants Pakistan to keep the pressure on insurgents and would likely be concerned about any effort to strike a deal. Many of America's fiercest foes in Afghanistan _ as well as al-Qaida operatives from around the world _ live alongside the militants in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan.

Anonymous Taliban and intelligence officials said recently that government intermediaries have met with Taliban commanders periodically over the past six months to talk about a possible peace deal.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Tuesday that the government has not held formal talks with the Pakistani Taliban. The army also denied being involved in talks.

Pakistan has cut deals with militant factions in the past, several of which quickly broke down after giving the insurgents time to regroup.

Army offensives against the Taliban are unpopular among many Pakistanis, many of whom view the militants as misguided Muslim brothers rather than terrorists. Right-wing and Islamist parties that support their aims have long called for a peace deal.

This view appeared to get traction in September when government leaders, opposition politicians and other national figures met in Islamabad and produced a vague resolution in support of peace moves with militants. Despite this, the government's official line is that they will talk only with militants who lay down their arms.

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Associated Press writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report.