by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Will there be or will there be no peace talks in Pakistan between the Sharif government and the Taliban?
This is the question that is being asked by the Pakistani public since despite giving signals that they are willing to sit down with the Islamabad government, the Taliban have continued their attacks not just against security forces but also against civilian targets.
Early this month, a bipartisan decision by the country's top political leaders backed up by the powerful military to hold talks with the Taliban had raised high hopes for the peace dialogue.
However, on Sept. 15, or just days after the government's unilateral peace initiative, the Taliban detonated a roadside bomb that killed a senior Pakistani general in the country's volatile northwest region. The unprovoked attack has been widely condemned as an attempt by the militants to derail the elusive peace process.
What is worse is that Taliban spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid, had immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in Upper Dir district, bordering Afghanistan.
Major General Sanaullah Niazi, in charge of the military operations in Swat valley and Malakand region, was killed along with a lieutenant colonel and a soldier who were returning from a visit to the military's forward posts along the Afghan border.
The senseless attack shocked everyone in Pakistan since they did not expect this to happen at a time when the civilian and military leadership have been unanimous in holding a peace dialogue despite misgivings and criticisms from some quarters.
Days after the killing of the top general, the Taliban came up with some unrealistic demands that include the release of Taliban prisoners in Paksitani jails and the immediate withdrawal of the Army from the tribal regions.
The demands were considered pre-conditions for the talks or could be another attempt by the Taliban to nip the peace process in the bud even before it could start.
Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in rare statement, reiterated the military's support for the talks but categorically opposed any pre-conditions by the Taliban.
"It is understandable to give peace a chance through a political process but no one should have any misgivings that we would let terrorists coerce us into accepting their terms," Kayani said Monday, a day after the Taliban killed the top army general.
In May, Kayani had also said that while the Army sincerely desires that all those who have strayed and have picked up arms against the nation return to the national fold, "this could only be possible once they (the Taliban) unconditionally submit to the state, its Constitution and the rule of law."
The Taliban's preconditions had been a main obstacle to accomplish the goal of peace as no one will agree to any condition unless the process begins.
Shahidullah Shahid has called on the government to come up with some confidence-building measures before the talks could be started but at the same time the militants refused to stop attacks which should have been its confidence-building measure in order to show that it is sincere in seeking a peaceful solution to the violence that has wracked the country for the past decade.
Majority in Pakistan now questioned the Taliban's sincerity in joining the talks. They argued that if the Taliban seek concessions from the government then why is it that that it is not following the same path.
Since the government has not put any condition to the talks, the Taliban should also withdraw their conditions and voluntarily declare a ceasefire that could pave the way for the dialogue to start and end the bloodshed and economic losses, some concerned sectors said.
The people are also hungry for peace as Pakistan has already lost nearly 50,000 people, including several thousand security personnel in bomb attacks and military operations over the past 10 years not to mention the millions of dollars lost in business opportunities because of the continued instability in the country.