ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Talks aimed at ending militancy in Pakistan's tribal regions have hit a snag over Taliban demands for the army to withdraw from the area, a Pakistani official said Monday.
But Mohammad Adeel, a leader of a party in Pakistan's coalition government, insisted the negotiations were not over despite the "minor delay."
Pakistan's new government has been pursuing talks with militants in a bid to end the extremism that has led to homicide attacks and other violence in the country.
It is a change from the more forceful tactics of U.S.-allied President Pervez Musharraf, who deployed tens of thousands of army troops to the tribal and border regions. The areas are considered havens for Taliban- and Al Qaeda-linked militants who stage attacks in Afghanistan.
One of the deals Pakistan's government is pursuing is with the Mahsud tribe in the South Waziristan region. The tribe includes the country's top Taliban commander, Baitullah Mehsud.
On Monday, Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar claimed that Mehsud had ordered a stop to the talks.
"The basic reason was that the army should be withdrawn from all the regions," Umar said. "The government did not accept that demand and told the (tribal council) that we cannot do that."
Adeel, however, said the Taliban had demanded an early withdrawal of army forces from parts of the tribal regions as a "symbolic" gesture, leading to the hiccup in talks.
The Awami National Party official said all groups involved in the talks agree with the general principle of an army withdrawal, but when and how they would pull back had yet to be worked out.
He said a gradual withdrawal of the army, accompanied by transfer of authority to other security forces more acceptable to the population, was more practical than anything immediate.
Mehsud heads an umbrella group called Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, which last week distributed a flier urging followers to observe a cease-fire. Umar said Monday that the Taliban will "still maintain" the cease-fire.
Umar has said militants have other demands, including an exchange of prisoners with the government.
Officially, the government insists it is talking to tribal elders, not "terrorists," though militants insist the elders are little more than go-betweens.
The United States has expressed concern that peace accords could ease the pressure on extremist groups and allow them to plan fresh attacks in Afghanistan and the West.
It has agreed to equip and train locally recruited security forces for the tribal region and co-fund a massive development program, though those efforts are still in their infancy.