ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will only hold peace talks with Taliban insurgents if they lay down their arms first, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Tuesday.
"The minimum agenda is that they give up arms and come forward and then there will be talks. But if they think they will keep Kalashnikovs in their hands and also hold talks, that will not happen," he told reporters.
Both sides have indicated recently they were open to talks.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had earlier confirmed that his administration was ready to start talks with all factions of the Taliban, including the Haqqani network.
“If negotiations fail to work, the government will launch military operations in the tribal areas,” he told a small group of journalists at his private residence in Lahore.
He said that the approach currently being tried was similar to that which was tried in Swat, where the government offered a peace deal to the militants in 2009, but launched a military operation after the Taliban refused to honour their end of the bargain.
Communique from Taliban received
Malik has said that the government had received some messages dispatched from extremist elements for peace talks and dialogue. Replying to a question about a news story published in the US daily Washinton Post, he said: “The government has received messages from extremist elements,” however, dialogues would start when they disarm themselves.”
The TTP has been waging a campaign of attacks including suicide bombings across Pakistan since 2007.
A series of army offensives against TTP strongholds along the rugged mountainous border with Afghanistan has failed to contain the group, which is close to al Qaeda and is the biggest security threat to Pakistan.
Last year, the United States added the TTP to its list of foreign terrorist organisations and set rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of two of its leaders.
Malik arrives in Quetta
Upon his arrival at the Quetta airport, Malik said that he was visiting Balochistan on the instructions of Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani. “Issues of pilgrims travel to Iran, sectarianism, border surveillance and other law and order related matters would be reviewed during my Quetta visit,” the Interior Minister said and added today (Tuesday) he would be meeting with representatives of Hazara Community and different religious sects.
He said that Afghanistan militia had damaged a Pakistani checkpost on the border in Chaman, and said that steps were being taken to enhance surveillance in border areas.
The government, Malik clarified, was aware of the reported flights by NATO jets in Pakistani air space bordering Afghanistan and added that the violation was being noted in observation with International Set Procedures.
He said no one would be allowed to cast an evil eye on Pakistan and reaction would be given to any action carried out that violates sovereignty of the country.
Malik said crimes were not only being reported from across the country but also from abroad adding that strategy was being evolved to check these incidents.
He said that target killing of citizens in Quetta had been decreased with effective measures being taken by the government.
With regards to political future of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party led government, Malik said that the masses had given their mandate to the PPP to govern the country and added the PPP-led government would complete its tenure.
He said the Federal Government was responsible to maintain its writ and the provincial governments to maintain law and order within their jurisdiction.
He emphasized the need to promote community policing for securing peace.
Malik Ishaq detained
To another question, he said he had written a letter to Chief Secretary Punjab to detain Ishaq Malik of a banned organization and arrest his nine associates.
He said now Ishaq Malik had been detained and further action was being taken in this regard.