The Pakistani Taliban's leader Hakimullah Mehsud said he was ready for “serious talks” with Islamabad, and denied responsibility for the recent wave of violence, which has mostly taken place in the troubled city of Peshawar.
Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head for his alleged involvement in a deadly attack on a US military base in 2009, spoke to the BBC at a secret location in the country’s northwestern tribal areas earlier this month.
The interview was published Wednesday.
"We believe in serious talks but the government has taken no steps to approach us. The government needs to sit with us, then we will present our conditions," Mehsud was quoted as saying.
"The proper way to do it is that if the government appoints a formal team, and they sit with us, and we discuss our respective positions." Mehsud added that he would guarantee the safety of government negotiators.
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Eager to bring years of bloody fighting to an end, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has been pushing for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of militants operating independently from the Afghan Taliban, which is seeking to establish an Islamic state.
However, an explosion of violence in recent weeks, concentrated in Peshawar near the border with Afghanistan, appears to have extinguished any hopes of dialogue, at least for now.
The attacks included: the bombing of a Christian church which killed at least 85 people; the bombing of a bus carrying government employees which killed 19 people; and the bombing of a busy market which killed another 40 people.
After the church attack, Sharif called off plans for peace talks with the militant insurgents.
“We had proposed peace talks with the Taliban in good faith but ... because of this attack, the government is unable to move forward with what it planned and envisaged,” Sharif said on Sept. 22.
In the interview with the BBC, Mehsud denied the Pakistani Taliban, formally known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, was involved in these attacks — but at the same time vowed to continue targeting America and its “friends.”
Mehsud is on the FBI's list of "most wanted terrorists" for his alleged involvement in the 2009 bombing of a US military base near the Afghan town of Khost, which killed seven US citizens and injured another six.
Mehsud has been charged with conspiracy to murder a US national and use a weapon of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, Shahidullah Shahid, who is the spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, told Reuters in a separate interview published Wednesday that the group had several conditions for peace talks with the government: the release of all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of government troops from tribal areas and the cessation of US drone attacks.