NOWSHERA/MIRAMSHAH: As the killing of 23 detained paramilitary soldiers cast a pall over peace talks between the government and Taliban, a spokesman for the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said on Monday that the Taliban in Mohmand Agency might have avenged the killing of their colleagues.
Talking to Dawn on phone from an unspecified place, Shahidullah Shahid said custodial killings could further complicate the dialogue process.
He alleged that 23 people who were in government custody had been killed over the past three days -- 16 in Nowshera district and seven in Karachi.
“The killing of 16 people belonging to the Mohmand Agency might have enraged the Taliban in the region and they killed the 23 soldiers,” he said.
The spokesman said the government should stop its operation and avoid obstructing peace talks. The TTP wanted sincere and serious talks with the government, he added.
The TTP Mohmand chapter headed by Umar Khalid Khorasani claimed on Sunday night to have killed 23 paramilitary personnel they had captured during an attack on a checkpost in the tribal region in 2010.
The claim could not be verified from security forces and independent sources.
An official in Peshawar said that at least 12 personnel had been missing since the particular incident, adding that the authorities were verifying the record if the missing personnel were among those claimed to have been killed.
Hours before the TTP spokesman’s statement, Professor Ibrahim Khan, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, said at a press conference in Akora Khattak that there was a deadlock in talks.
Earlier, a meeting of the two committees scheduled at the residence of Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of his own faction of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and a member of the TTP team, was cancelled after government negotiators said it could not be held in the present circumstances.
The Taliban negotiators urged the government to keep the peace process intact because the country could not afford further bloodshed.
Maulana Yousaf Shah, coordinator of the Taliban committee, accused the government of treating the TTP committee members as Taliban and declined to meet them.
Maulana Haq and Professor Ibrahim were in Akora Khattak for the meeting with the four-member government committee, headed Irfan Siddiqui.
Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz, another member of the Taliban committee, was not there.
Professor Ibrahim said they were not supporting any side and only trying to restore peace in the country. “Our role is to facilitate the peace process and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should meet members of the two committees and listen to their points of view,” he said.
He regretted that it was the second time that the government committee had cancelled a meeting at the eleventh hour.
Answering to question, Professor Ibrahim said they would ask Taliban about the killing of 23 soldiers.
He clarified that they would not defend TTP’s activities because they were not from the Taliban. But he said that the Taliban had explained through the media reasons for their action.