Afghan refugees and Pakistani school children, who were displaced with their families from Pakistan's tribal areas due to fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistan army, sing with their teacher during the Thursday morning assembly at their makeshift school on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan. (Muhammed Muheisen / AP)
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister said Thursday that talks with the domestic arm of the Taliban have started, though he gave no details about who was taking part or what was on the agenda.
Nawaz Sharif’s comments came during a meeting in London with the British deputy prime minister and were released in a statement by the Pakistani High Commission there.
“The prime minister informed (the deputy prime minister) that the dialogue with the Taliban has started. He said that he hoped and prayed the dialogue works within the constitutional framework of Pakistan,” the statement read.
The prime minister said the government “could not wait and see the innocent people and members of law enforcement agencies being killed in the streets of Pakistan.”
Sharif was elected this year in part by promising to negotiate with militants in the country’s northwest who have killed thousands of civilians and security forces.
Many are frustrated that years of Pakistani military operations in the tribal areas where the militants have their safe havens have failed to end the violence. They see negotiations as a necessary step.
Representatives of the country’s major political parties backed Sharif’s plan for negotiations in early September. His government has been under pressure to show progress ever since.
But the militants have shown little appetite for talks. They have demanded that Pakistan stop supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, and that the Pakistani army withdraws troops from the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan that border with Afghanistan.
They’ve also demanded an end to American drone strikes in the tribal areas. Drones are a particular touchy subject for many Pakistanis who view them as an infringement on their sovereignty.
The leader of one of the country’s main opposition parties, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, threatened Thursday to cut off NATO supplies moving through Pakistan if the U.S. launches any drone strikes during the talks.
The party of cricket player-turned-politician Imran Khan has been an outspoken critic of the U.S. drone policy. His party controls the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northern Pakistan, one of two routes supplies move in and out of Afghanistan.
Speaking at a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore, Khan said his party had the capability to stop the NATO supplies and warned that his words must not be taken lightly.
The Pakistani Taliban has similar viewpoints and loyalties as the Afghan Taliban but a separate structure with separate leadership.
Sharif’s reference to talks taking place inside the framework of the constitution could prove problematic. One of the Pakistani Taliban’s demands is a much harsher version of Islamic law across the country than currently allowed in the constitution.