Pakistani tribesmen at a displacement camp head for buses that returned… (Irfan Burki / AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan — Leaders of the Pakistani Taliban have begun preliminary talks with intermediaries of the government aimed at reaching a peace agreement in the tribal region of South Waziristan, the site of a large-scale military operation against the homegrown insurgency in 2009.
Sources close to the Pakistani Taliban confirmed that talks were underway, adding that the discussions were at an early stage. The intermediaries include tribal elders in South Waziristan, the militant group's stronghold.
Previous peace agreements between the government and Taliban militants in Pakistan's volatile tribal areas along the Afghan border have ended in failure. Militants used those cease-fires as an opportunity to regroup and gather recruits.
However, the country's top political leaders met this fall and worked out a resolution calling for renewed negotiations, saying that military operations in the tribal areas had failed to rein in insurgents.
In recent years, more than 140,000 government troops deployed along the border have retaken areas once controlled by the Pakistani Taliban. But the militants still maintain a presence in pockets of the tribal belt and continue to carry out attacks on military and civilian targets. Since 2001, Pakistan has been overwhelmed by a stream of suicide bombings that have killed and injured thousands of people.
Given the country's history of treaties that have backfired, some experts doubt that the renewed talks with the Taliban will produce lasting peace.
Across the border in Afghanistan, negotiating with the Afghan Taliban is viewed by Washington as the best hope for ending 10 years of war between those insurgents and U.S., Afghan and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces.
Like the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban is made up of factions united by the goal of toppling the government and imposing sharia, or Islamic law. The Pakistani Taliban maintains links with Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and other Pakistani militant groups entrenched in the tribal belt.
According to a source within the Pakistani Taliban, the group's initial demands include the withdrawal of troops from South Waziristan, the release of Taliban fighters captured during military operations and the ability to move freely into districts that abut South Waziristan, including the Dera Ismail Khan and Tank regions.
"Acceptance of these demands should be taken as a prerequisite for meaningful dialogue," said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Local officials reached Monday said they were not aware of the substance of the talks.
Times staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Ali from Peshawar.