by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Oct. 6 (Xinhua) -- Pakistanis are now deeply divided on whether or not the government should pursue peace negotiations with the Taliban after the militant group staged deadly terror attacks in the northern part of the country during the last few weeks.
Although there have been reports of initial contacts between the Taliban and government emissaries, the unabated violence committed by the Taliban has scuttled the prospects of a peace dialogue before it can start.
Three major attacks in the country's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in two weeks killed nearly 200 people, mostly innocent civilians.
A Taliban member of the group's Political Commission has confirmed to the media that religious scholars and tribal elders are in contact with the militants on behalf of the government. But he quickly added that no talks have started so far. The spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, Shahidullah Shahid, said that the Taliban want an "impartial mediator" for the talks to start.
The Taliban had previously proposed names of three senior political leaders as guarantors when they offered conditional talks to the government for the first time in February this year.
However, all the three had declined to accept the role because of the little chance of success owing to the continued attacks by the Taliban.
The proposed dialogue with the Taliban, blamed for most of the attacks in Pakistan, gained momentum after a last month's parliamentary parties'conference called upon by the government to initiate talks with the militants. The Taliban also reportedly agreed to talk, however, their pre-conditions and last month's bomb attack that killed a senior military general in the northwest cast doubts on the possibility of such talks.
The attack sent a wave of shock across Pakistan after the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing of Major General Sanaullah Niazi in Upper Dir District.
Three other major attacks, including the two suicide bomb attacks on a church in Peshawar, raised further doubts over any such possibility. The church twin attacks had killed over 80 Christians. Although the Taliban denied involvement in the church attacks, the TTP spokesman said the attack was in accordance with Islamic Sharia, the notion strongly rejected by top religious scholars.
Many in Pakistan did not believe in the Taliban's denial of their role in the church attack since the manner in which the suicide attack was carried was the same as that of other Taliban attacks. The conditions laid down by the Taliban' before it would sit down with the government, which include the release of their prisoners, halt of U.S. drone strikes and withdrawal of troops from the tribal regions, have been strongly criticized by the Pakistani society and the media.
In a rare public statement, Army Chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, also rejected the Taliban demands.
Analysts here said that by asking for pre-conditions, the Taliban are not really interested in the peace dialogue. The militants' refusal to declare a ceasefire prior to the talks is also cited as a major obstacle to the success of the peace process.
Pakistan's top religious scholars, some of them Taliban teachers, issued an appeal to the militants to stop attacks. However the Taliban have not come up with a positive response. Instead it continued its terror attacks on security forces, non- Muslims, government employees and civilians. Some of the leaders, who had supported the holding of the talks during the parliamentary parties' conference held last month, are now with strong reservations over wisdom of talking to the Taliban. There is also now a strong consensus in favor of the use of force against the Taliban militants if they still insist on war since the people are tired of terrorism which, officials say, has claimed nearly 50,000 lives in ten years.