by Muhammad Tahir
ISLAMABAD, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- The leaders of the Pakistani Taliban appeared to be divided over the offer of dialogue by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif despite the series of deadly aerial bombardment by government forces of its stronghold in North Waziristan during the last few days.
On Wednesday, in a rare address before the parliament, Sharif declared categorically that he would no longer tolerate any more killings of security forces and civilians by the Taliban as he condemned the group's recent wave of attacks across the country.
But at the same time, Sharif announced for the first time that he has formed a committee that will contact the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to formally begin the much-anticipated peace dialogue.
A number of opposition lawmakers immediately expressed their support for the prime minister and promised to cooperate. Some leaders, however, suggested that talks with the Taliban should be transparent so that the people would know if there is any progress.
A united approach by the treasury and opposition benches has sent positive signals to the Taliban to review their policies of violent extremism.
But the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban is divided over the dialogue offer since one faction said it welcomed the offer while the main group said that it was still studying the offer and would respond in a few days.
"We have taken the government's offer seriously. The Taliban's central council will deeply review the offer and will inform the Muslims of Pakistan in few days," Tehrik-e-Taliban Spokesman Pakistan Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement.
A powerful Taliban faction has, however, readily hailed the government's offer and said it would come up with a positive response.
"We welcome the talks offer. The prime minister's offer indicates his seriousness," Senior Taliban Commander Asmatullah Muaweya said.
Muaweya said that if the government offers a cease-fire his group would respond positively. Muaweya, who leads the Taliban fighters from Punjab province, operates from North Waziristan tribal region. His group is considered the hardliner within the Taliban and has been blamed for several major attacks against security forces.
Shahidullah Shahid, however, criticized the Punjabi Taliban leader's comment and said the latter has no right to welcome the talks offer and that only the TTP leadership can make a decision.
The differences in their response to Sharif's dialogue offer indicate they are deeply divided at a time when the ball is now in their court and all eyes are on them. Their differences could derail the dialogue process.
As the Taliban are blamed for most of the terror attacks and killings, including of civilians, the Pakistani public has vigorously backed the dialogue process in order to put a stop to the attacks and senseless killings in the country.
A member of prime minister's four-member committee for the Taliban talks, Rahimullah Yousafzai, suggested a cease-fire ahead of the beginning of the talks.
Yousafzai, who regularly writes about the Taliban, said that the Taliban and the security forces should stop attacks on each other as part of confidence building measures for the talks to prosper.
Since it has already formed its mediation committee, the government also expects the Taliban to do the same.
Analysts here said that the long-awaited dialogue process is imperative in order to put a stop to the continued violence in Pakistan perpetrated by the Taliban that has already resulted in nearly 40,000 people dead and billions of dollars lost in the economy which has remained hobbled by the continued reign of terror in some parts of the country.
During the last few days, government forces launched a major offensive, using ground troops and aerial assets against the Taliban in North Waziristan, their last stronghold, killing scores of Taliban militants.