Pakistani Taliban capture 22 soldiers after government rejects terms
Pakistan's interior minister dismissed today Pakistani Taliban conditions for a cease-fire, including changes to the constitution and a break with the US.
| Era Ismail Khan, Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan
The Pakistani Taliban have seized at least 22 men from a paramilitary force in attacks on three checkpoints in northern Pakistan, a regional official said on Thursday, but Taliban and other Pakistani sources put the number even higher.
At least 22 men were missing, two had been killed and one was injured after the overnight attacks, said Naveed Akbar, a regional official whose remit covers the paramilitary units.
Other Pakistani officials said at least 30 men had been taken, a figure confirmed by Taliban spokesmen.
This comes just after the Pakistani Taliban have outlined conditions for a cease-fire, including the adoption of Islamic law and a break with the United States, a spokesman said Thursday, an offer dismissed out of hand by the interior minister.
The Taliban, in a letter sent to the Pakistan daily The News, also demanded that Pakistan stop its involvement in the war pitting Afghan insurgents against the Kabul government and refocus on a war of "revenge" against India.
The letter from Taliban spokesman Amir Muawiya comes as the focus in Afghanistan shifts from a military push by NATO troops to potential peace talks, and amid speculation of a rift between top Pakistan Talibanleaders.
Military officials told Reuters last month that Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud had lost operational command to his deputy, Wali ur-Rehman, considered to be more open to reconciliation with the Pakistani government. The Taliban deny Mehsud has lost command.
The Pakistani Taliban are a separate entity allied to the Afghan Taliban. Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), they have launched devastating attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians.
The cease-fire conditions, confirmed by spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan in a phone call to Reuters, said Pakistan should rewrite its laws and constitution according to Islamic law.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik rejected any offer of a cease-fire unless it came from the Pakistan Taliban leader.
"I reject all these offers, and any future claims, of Ihsanullah Ihsan, unless and until Hakeemullah Mehsud owns them himself," Malik said.
A second government official, who asked not to be identified, dismissed the proposal as "preposterous."
"They are a bunch of criminals. This is not the Afghan Taliban. They are not open to talks," The official said.
"No one can take such an offer or terms seriously. The TTP is not a proper entity, certainly not one any government can negotiate with."
In his comments, Ihsan said the Pakistani Taliban were ready to abide by a cease-fire "as long as they meet our demands, that an Islamic system should be put into place, they should fix their foreign policy and stop agreeing to America's demands."
The militants accused Pakistan's army of acting as "mercenaries" for America and pledged to continue attacks on two major political parties they say serve US interests.
"The big mistake [the government] made is that they fought America's war in Afghanistan and brought it into Pakistan," Ihsan said.
NATO troops are due to hand over control of most operations in Afghanistan to Afghan forces next year and officials have been eager to start peace talks with the Taliban there.
But the Taliban insurgency in both Pakistan and Afghanistan is fragmented and commanders often disagree over strategy.
Ihsan said that even if there was a peace agreement signed with the government, the Taliban would not disarm.
"We do not accept Pakistan's present secular and pro-West system and its constitution," he said. "We also oppose Pakistan's pro-West foreign policy and if the government wants us to announce a cease-fire, it will have to accept all our demands."
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Jon Boyle)