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Pakistan's military and legislators plan peace talks with Taliban

In the midst of bad and worsening relations with Washington, Pakistan considers new round of peace talks with Pakistan-based Taliban, arguing that 'military solutions' are making things worse.

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As a sign of how seriously Pakistani officials took the charges, the country's most powerful military chiefs, including Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, attended the meeting, hoping to send a strong message of unity to Washington. ISI chief Pasha, in his in-camera briefing, dismissed the allegations and said the spy agency was not exporting terrorism in Afghanistan and has no links with the Haqqanis, according to the politicians attended the briefing.

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Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan will not bow to US pressure to step up its fight against militancy.

"Pakistan cannot be pressured to do more, and our national interests should be respected," Mr. Gilani told the meeting.

Now, Pakistan must finalize the “proper mechanism” for engaging the militants into negotiations.

Pakistan's military has deployed around 150,000 troops in the semi-autonomous tribal belt along Afghan border and is engaged in fighting with Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban militants, known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

This military activity has carried a heavy political cost, analysts say, as Pakistani Taliban militants have carried out a series of deadly suicide attacks against sensitive military installations, including its headquarters and against the Mehran naval base near Karachi, in a wave of violence that has claimed thousands of lives.

“When America is adopting the policy of reconciliation with Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan, why can’t we go for dialogue with militant groups in Pakistan?” said Haider Abbas Rizvi, a key legislator of the powerful Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movment (MQM), after attending the Islamabad conference.

The negotiations will be held only with those militants who recognize Pakistan’s constitution, Mr. Rizvi said, and not with foreign militants. Pakistan’s soil will not be allowed to use for any kind of terrorism, he added.

“Military operations are not the solution," said Imran Khan, a former cricket star-turned-politician, known for his strong anti-US views. "It didn’t work for America in Afghanistan, and it won’t be effective even today. Time has come to talk peace so let’s give peace a chance.”

The pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman, who also attended the conference, said, “America, after facing humiliating defeat in Afghanistan, wants to push Pakistan deep into the war. We should not fight with our own people for somebody else’s vested gains.”

But analysts believe that striking negotiations with Islamic militants will pose serious challenges.

“We struck peace accords with militant commanders during the past and those blew up on our face,” says Peshawar-based defense analyst, retired Brig. Mohammad Saad. “Once you enter into negotiations, they [the militants] grow bigger than their size and start believing themselves as equal. The more the state talks to them, they will become a bigger problem in Pakistan.”

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