Pakistan’s Taliban have named politician and ex-cricketer Imran Khan as a member of a five-man team to enter into peace talks with the government. Mr. Khan’s party strongly favors negotiations, but a statement said that he would probably prefer to assist the peace process in another role. PM Nawaz Sharif returned to power last May promising talks with the Taliban. Deadly attacks have continued and Mr. Sharif said this week he was giving peace a last chance by naming a team. The Taliban said it would consider the offer of talks and has now responded.
The team named by the Taliban on Saturday comprises Mr. Khan, the chief cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and three top religious party leaders - Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, Mufti Kifayatullah and Prof Ibrahim Khan. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told Agence France-Presse news agency: “The committee members will hold talks with their interlocutors in the government’s team on our behalf and put forth our point of view.”
Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has strongly backed talks. A statement said he was unlikely to take the role but stood ready to help the peace process. Maulana Abdul Aziz told AFP: “I will continue to be part of the committee if the government shows sincerity in looking into [Taliban] demands - and of course the major demand is enforcement of Sharia law in the country.”
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said on Sunday that the Taliban’s announcement of its team was positive. “It is a matter of great satisfaction that both sides have announced their negotiating teams after many years and this reflects that both sides want to make peace through negotiations and dialogue,” Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying.
Mr. Sharif’s team comprises veteran journalists Rahimullah Yusufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major in the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah. In a rare address to the National Assembly on Wednesday, Mr. Sharif said “terrorism” must be defeated, either by talks or force, and he was giving peace a last chance.
The leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a US drone strike in November and his successor, Mullah Fazlullah, had ruled out peace talks and promised revenge. However, after Mr Sharif’s speech, Mr Shahid said the Taliban was “ready for meaningful negotiations provided the government shows sincerity of purpose.” No timeframe has been set for the talks. Scores of people have been killed this month alone, many of them soldiers, as the militants attacked military and civilian targets across the country.