Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warns Taliban that any act of violence will be met with ‘befitting response.’
Pakistan on Sunday said it was halting airstrikes against Taliban militants in response to a month-long ceasefire announced by the insurgents a day earlier, paving the way for the resumption of peace talks.
The government entered into peace talks with the Taliban last month aimed at ending the militants’ seven-year insurgency, but the dialogue broke down after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
The military responded with a series of airstrikes in the tribal areas that left more than 100 insurgents dead, and on Saturday the Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire aimed at resuming the stalled talks.
“After the positive announcement yesterday by the Taliban, the government has decided to suspend the airstrikes which were continuing for the past few days,” interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a statement Sunday. The statement added: “The government and armed forces of Pakistan, however, reserve the right for a befitting response to any act of violence (by the Taliban).”
The Taliban’s ceasefire announcement on Saturday was met with skepticism by analysts who said it may be a tactic to allow the militants to regroup after they have taken heavy losses in airstrikes.
But Khan said the “government considers the announcement of stopping of violent activities by Taliban a positive development.” He added that since the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took charge in June last year, Islamabad had not taken “any unjustified action” against the militants, choosing only to react to violence rather than initiating any new military operations.
Rahimullah Yusufzai, a member of the government’s negotiation team, said: “I think that the possibility of resumption of peace talks has now increased. A ceasefire was the demand of the government and the negotiations committee. But the ceasefire should be effective. If attacks continue then the conducive environment we are searching for won’t materialize.”
Security analyst Talat Masood, a retired general, said the ceasefire had come about because the military’s airstrikes had forced the Taliban back to the negotiation table, and that the government should be careful not to lose its advantage. “One of the inherent dangers of a ceasefire is that it allows militants to regroup or reorganize. We will have to increase our intelligence to closely monitor if militants are regrouping or escaping during the ceasefire,” he said. He added that militant groups that are not in favor of talks might try to disrupt the ceasefire.
Eleven paramilitary soldiers and one child died while 11 other people were wounded when three roadside bombs targeting a polio vaccination team in the lawless Khyber district exploded Saturday, in an attack carried out by the little-known Abdullah Izam Brigade, according to an official.
The Pakistani military earlier on Sunday deployed a helicopter gunship to kill five militants it blamed for the attack, according to a senior security official.