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Asmatullah Muawiya, head of the Punjabi Taliban faction, listens to reporters at an undisclosed place in the tribal region of Waziristan. —Photo by AP
Asmatullah Muawiya, head of the Punjabi Taliban faction, listens to reporters at an undisclosed place in the tribal region of Waziristan. —Photo by AP

PESHAWAR: A spokesman for the main Taliban group in Pakistan claimed Saturday that the head of the Punjabi Taliban faction has been stripped of his leadership for welcoming the government’s peace talk offer.

Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), said Saturday that the Taliban central shura (council) had taken ‘serious notice’ of Asmatullah Muawiya’s recent statement as he was not authorised to respond to the government’s offer for talks.

“The Taliban decision making body met under Commander Hakimullah Mehsud and decided that Asmatullah Muawiya has no relation with the TTP,” Shahid told news agency AFP.

“He is respectable for us, but he has no relation with the TTP. The decision about the new head of TTP’s Punjab chapter will be taken in next meeting of our decision makers,” he said.

Shahid claimed that the council has removed Asmatullah Muawiya from the leadership of the Punjabi Taliban militants, and that the TTP leadership will later issue their stance on the offer of peace talks.

Muawiya responded to The Associated Press that the Taliban shura did not have the capacity to remove him because the Punjabi Taliban is a separate group. He said his group has its own decision-making body to decide leadership and other matters.

Last week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had offered dialogue to “those elements which unfortunately have taken the course of extremism”.

On Thursday, Muawiya said Sharif had demonstrated political maturity by reiterating his offer to hold negotiations. Muawiya had said militants in Pakistan should respond positively if the government is serious about resolving the conflict.

Muawiya, who heads the Taliban’s faction of fighters from Punjab province, was previously known to be a principal ally of the TTP, an umbrella group of radical religious militants fighting the Pakistani government.

The latest development shows signs of growing divisions between Taliban groups over the issue of holding negotiatians with Sharif’s government, which swept to power in the May 11 general elections.

But TTP distanced itself from Muawiya’s comments and said that the commander has no further role in the outfit.