Pakistan responded to the Taliban’s announcement of a ceasefire Saturday by vowing to stop their own air strikes. The Taliban has vowed to cease fire for one month. Pakistan has reserved the right to resume strikes should the Taliban initiate any “violent activity” within the month, but Pakistanis themselves view the announced ceasefire with wary eyes.
The offer of the ceasefire by the Taliban is a move which they hope will instill new life in their peace talks with the government, which ended last month after militants linked to the Taliban announced that the 23 soldiers they were holding hostage had been killed. The announcement caused the Pakistani military to begin air strikes in the northwest area of the country, where they suspect that the militants are hiding. The Taliban in Pakistan is based mostly in this area of the country, but carry out attacks throughout the country. Their aim is to remove the democratically elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, so that a strict Islamic state government can be installed. Sharif has been working toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict since his May election.
A government spokesman, Rustam Shah Mohmand, said Sunday that there remain only three options for any foreign militants hiding within tribal regions of Pakistan: They can leave the area, surrender, or live in peace. Mohmand offered a solution to those who are unable to return to their native countries, saying that the government would work to assimilate them into the mainstream.
The spokesman for the Taliban, Shahidullah Shahid, announced on Saturday that the ceasefire offer by his group had been made “because of a positive response from the government, an appeal from the religious scholars and for the better future of Pakistan.” In addition, he asked that the government of Pakistan work to end the introduction of sharia law as well as U.S. drone strikes.
Pakistan has announced that the ceasefire is a “positive development” and will begin talks anew with the Taliban. A meeting of both sides will be arranged within the next few days in spite of opposition by Pakistani groups who claim that attacks by offshoot Islamic terrorist groups and jihadists continue because central leadership of the Taliban is unable to control these other extremists. Due to this, many Pakistanis are wary of the announced ceasefire.
Attacks by the Taliban have escalated in Afghanistan and Pakistan in anticipation of the 2014 U.S. withdrawal of troops from the region. In Pakistan alone, deaths from bombs and guns have numbered in the hundreds within the past several months.
The Taliban has recently stepped up attacks against targets in Pakistan and Afghanistan ahead of an anticipated reduction in the number of U.S. troops in the region in late 2014. Should the ceasefire prove lasting, Mohmand hopes that the two sides can move forward with a newfound trust in each other – a trust that could also be strengthened by the exchange of prisoners on each side, and that would hopefully lead to a longer period of ceasefire between the Taliban and Pakistan.
By Jennifer Pfalz