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ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Senior Pakistani Taliban commanders opened discussions Thursday on how to respond to an invitation from the government on talks to end an insurgency that has killed thousands of people.
Leaders in the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) are expected to continue consultations for several days at an undisclosed location in the semi-autonomous northwest along the Afghan border.
TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was previously reportedly against holding talks with the authorities, is chairing the consultations, two Taliban commanders told AFP.
"We are discussing the overall situation and the government's offer. We will soon inform the media about our decisions," TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP.
Earlier this week, he welcomed the offer of peace talks.
"We have taken the government's offer seriously and commanders are discussing a future plan for proposed peace talks," one senior Taliban commander told AFP from an undisclosed location.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who took office after winning elections in May, has called for peace talks and on Monday won backing for his policy from Pakistan's main political parties.
"The shura (decision-making council) is discussing the overall situation. It's good that all Pakistan leaders have agreed to initiate peace talks," another TTP commander told AFP.
He called on the military to stop all operations against Taliban fighters in the northwest and called for a halt to US drone strikes, which target Islamist militants on the Afghan border.
"We also want all our prisoners released and compensation for all those killed in military operations," he said.
A third TTP commander said the Taliban would finalise the names of a negotiations committee and a list of TTP prisoners.
"We hope that the shura will take a decision on all matters in the next five or six days," he said.
"We want guarantees from the government side. In the past, governments have not fulfilled their promises and we do not want to repeat that again," he added.
Previous peace deals with Taliban have quickly broken down and been sharply criticised for allowing the extremists space to regroup before launching a new wave of attacks.
Pakistan says more than 40,000 people have been killed as a result of bomb and suicide attacks carried out by Taliban and Al-Qaeda-led militants who oppose Islamabad's US alliance.