NEW: A senior provincial government official condemns the killings
NEW: The incident indicates a split developing within the Taliban, an observer says
The security officials were kidnapped near the Afghan border two weeks ago
The Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for the killings
Authorities found the bodies of 15 Pakistani security personnel in the country’s northwest tribal region, officials said Thursday.
The security officials had been kidnapped two weeks ago in Tank, an area south of Peshawar near the Afghan border, said Ali Sher, a senior security official.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings, said Ihsanullah Ihsan, a spokesman for the militant group.
Ihsan said the execution was in response to a search operation for militants conducted last week in the country’s Landi Kotal tribal area, where a number of women were arrested by Pakistani security forces.
The security personnel belonged to the Frontier Constabulary, a special police unit deployed in Pakistan’s North Western region, charged with fighting militancy at a local level, said Majid Marwat, a senior commander with the unit.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain condemned the execution.
Speaking to CNN, Iftikhar Hussain said that the government is still willing to engage in peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban as long as they lay down their weapons.
Journalist and military expert Wajahat S. Khan in Islamabad told CNN the Taliban had vowed revenge for last week’s operation by Pakistani security forces, in which 12 militants died and three women attached to the militant contingent were arrested.
The Pakistani Taliban warned they would continue attacks against the Pakistani security forces unless the women were released, Khan said.
“This latest execution… is the Taliban putting their money where their mouth is,” he said. “Though a critical loss for Pakistani security forces in a crucial part of the country, these latest killings have to be looked at under the larger context of the drive for peace in the region.”
He believes the incident shows “a diverse factionalism that is developing beneath the wider umbrella of the Taliban movement. On the one hand we have the peace negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the U.S. gaining traction fast in Afghanistan and beyond – in Qatar even.
“On the other hand, with this latest incident on the Pakistani side we have proof that there are certain elements that want to up the ante and are not interested in talking.”
After this incident, he said, it seems obvious that “the center of gravity of the radicalization, the hard core, the extremist core, of people that are not interested in talking, only fighting, seems to have shifted from Afghanistan across the border and into Pakistan.”