Pakistan opposition leader demands Taliban peace talks

Pakistan's main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif has demanded immediate talks with the Taliban and called on the government to take seriously a conditional peace offer from the insurgents.

The umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction has stepped up attacks in recent months, leading to fears that violence could mar general elections scheduled to take place by mid-May.

In a video message handed out to journalists on Sunday, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan proposed talks with Islamabad provided that certain opposition politicians, including Sharif, act as guarantors.

Sharif welcomed the peace talks offer but refused to be a guarantor.

"There is a need to take the Taliban's offer seriously because the people of Pakistan want peace," Sharif said in a statement published by local newspapers on Friday and confirmed by his party's spokesman, Siddiqul Farooq.

"I ask the government to initiate result-oriented peace talks with the Taliban without any delay," added Sharif, refusing to be a guarantor on the basis of the government's "credibility record".

In December, TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million US bounty on his head, said he was open to peace talks but refused to disarm.

Critics have accused the authorities of appeasement in trying to broker peace with the TTP in the past, charging that such deals give the militants time to regroup before launching further attacks.

Elections on time would mark the first democratic transition of power in Pakistani history. Local media has recently tipped Sharif the most likely victor in the polls.