ISLAMABAD: Dismissing the concept of peace talks immediately after Pakistan government’s announcement of using force as a last resort, the Taliban Tuesday said they have information that plans are already under way for a military operation, adding the insurgents were ready for battle.
“Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It's powerless and dollar-hungry,” said Shahidullah Shahid, a Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman.
“They should happily launch a military operation against us. We have seen their military operations in the past and would like them to start this long-awaited operation,” he said defiantly.
'Military action to be used as last resort against Taliban'
The Pakistan government, earlier in the day, ruled out military action against the Taliban as its first preference and promised to persuade insurgents to lay down their weapons through peace negotiations.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) on Tuesday where officials confirmed their commitment to talks rather than military action.
“The committee reaffirmed (the) government's commitment to the strategy of negotiations with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and considers the use of other options only as a last resort,” the PM’s office said in a statement.
“The committee deliberated upon the government's strategy to engage various groups of Pakistani Taliban to address issues of extremism and militancy.”
The meeting focused on three key issues, including formulation of national security strategy to safeguard national interests, strategy on internal security and relations with Afghanistan.
The prime minister apprised the committee of his recent visit to Kabul. He said a number of steps were agreed with Afghanistan on political security, economic and commercial cooperation.
The committee agreed that the economic development and prosperity of the people was linked to ensuring security and stability in the country.
The committee members expressed complete unanimity on national security issues.
Measures concerning enhancement of security on western border and development of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) including other bordering areas also came into discussion, to bring them at par with national standards.
The meeting was attended by Minister for Defence Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Minister for Finance Ishaq Dar, Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Pervaiz Rashid, Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Advisor to the PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistance to the PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatmi, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Rashad Mahmood, Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Asif Sandilla, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, the Director General ISI and secretaries of ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior.
Mullah Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban's new hard line leader, has rejected outright the idea of peace talks and vowed to step up attacks as part of his campaign to topple the central government and establish Islamist rule in Pakistan.
The emergence of Fazlullah has prompted speculation that Pakistan might have to ditch hopes for a negotiated ceasefire and resort to military action against militants holed up in lawless ethnic Pashtun areas on the Afghan border.
However, the government today said the Taliban's tough rhetoric did not mean negotiations had failed.
“Their public posturing is different from what's going on in the background,” said Tariq Azeem, a senior official in PM Sharif's team.
“They want to appear tough but back channels show that they are also interested in talks.”
The Taliban could not be immediately reached for comment.
Under Fazlullah, Taliban fighters took over Pakistan's Swat valley in 2009, imposing austere Islamic rule and eventually prompting the army to launch a major offensive to flush them out of the strategic region just 160 km (100 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
Fazlullah, who fled to Afghanistan after the 2009 operation, has now returned to his homeland to lead the insurgency. He was named the leader last month after his predecessor, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike on Nov 1.
Nicknamed “Mullah Radio” for his fiery broadcasts in Swat, Fazlullah is best known for ordering the assassination of teenage female education activist Malala Yousafzai. She survived the attack and now lives in Britain.
Fazlullah has now promised a new campaign of shootings and bombings against the government, particularly in densely populated Punjab province – Sharif's political powerbase.
But, a month after he took over as the Taliban chief, there have been no major attacks in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban are allied with the Afghan Taliban but Afghan Taliban militants are intent on expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan and do not fight the Pakistani government – Reuters/APP