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Pakistani Taliban announce cease-fire, sources say

By Shaan Khan, CNN
updated 1:04 PM EST, Tue November 22, 2011
Pakistani Taliban gather in an open area of Mamouzai in Orakzai Agency on November 26, 2008.
Pakistani Taliban gather in an open area of Mamouzai in Orakzai Agency on November 26, 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Pakistani Taliban commanders say a cease-fire was agreed in South Waziristan
  • They say talks focus on South Waziristan and include a demand for troop withdrawal
  • The Pakistani Taliban's official spokesman denies talks are taking place
  • The Pakistani government and military also say reports of talks are baseless

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The Pakistani Taliban have declared a cease-fire in South Waziristan, one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, three Taliban commanders told CNN Tuesday.

The cease-fire -- agreed a month ago -- follows back-channel peace talks that have been taking place between intermediaries representing the Pakistani government and the Pakistani Taliban, the commanders said.

The commanders, speaking under condition of anonymity, said the talks were preliminary and began in late September, focusing only on South Waziristan.

The group has demanded an exchange of prisoners, the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from South Waziristan and compensation for the victims of army operations in the area, which borders Afghanistan, the Taliban commanders told CNN.

The Pakistani Taliban has made preliminary contacts with the government through local tribal elders to explore the possibilities of a peace deal, the commanders said.

South Waziristan is believed to be the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban leadership.

The outcome of the purported back-channel talks is not yet known -- and senior figures in the country's government and military have denied they are going on.

The official spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, a group that has not always spoken with one voice, categorically denied the commanders' claims.

"We are not against Pakistan. We are against the U.S. and its allies," spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said.

"Once Pakistan stops acting as an ally of America, only then will we be open to peace talks with the Pakistani government."

Pakistan's interior minister denied the government is actively in talks with any faction of the Pakistani Taliban.

"The Taliban have been trying to contact us; however, we will not engage in peace talks with them until they give up their arms," Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN.

Malik said the message the Pakistani government has sent to the Taliban is: "Give up your arms and then we will talk."

The Pakistan military dismissed the reports of ongoing peace talks as "concocted and baseless."

Commander Asif Yasin Malik, a military spokesman, told reporters in Mingora, in Pakistan's northwestern Swat district: "We are not talking to the Taliban. This is the government's job, not ours."

Both the Taliban and the Pakistani government would consider any talks highly sensitive because of the risk of being perceived as abandoning their cause and appeasing the enemy.

Both sides have set conditions for talks and neither wants to be seen as the side that abandons its conditions. This may explain why the two sides are denying talks are taking place and apparently using go-betweens instead of meeting directly.

The Pakistani government faces the added risk of upsetting the United States, since Washington has long pressed Pakistan to get more aggressive with violent extremists along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

The United States expressed serious concern after Pakistan's short-lived peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban in 2008.

Founded by Baitullah Mehsud in 2007, the Pakistani Taliban is a banned Islamist group said to have links with the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda.

Since its inception, the group has focused its attacks on military forces and installations as well as civilian targets in the region.

Journalists Saboor Khattak and Nasir Habib contributed to this report.

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