Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has said that his government is ready to start parleys with Taliban, but evaded questions whether the reconciliation would include the Haqqani faction.
For the first time, Gilani dropped his earlier pre-condition of militants giving up arms before any talks, but warned that if the parleys fail to work, the military will launch operations in the tribal areas.
"If negotiations fail to work, the government will launch military operations in the tribal areas," he told a small group of journalists at his residence in Lahore last night.
Gilani provided details about how the talks would be conducted for the first time, days after a meeting of Pakistan's political parties called for peace talks to end unrest in the militancy-hit tribal belt.
"We will not ask them (militants) to disarm before the negotiations since this is against the tribal culture. However, the political agents (government administrators in the tribal regions) will ask them to decommission themselves," he was quoted as saying in media reports on Monday.
The proposed talks will be monitored by a parliamentary committee to ensure transparency and civilian oversight of the process, he said. "We want to give peace a chance now...The national interest is above everything, we will give people a chance to reconcile."
Asked whether the Haqqani network – blamed by the US for high-profile terror attacks in Afghanistan – would be part of the reconciliation, Gilani evaded a direct answer and said a parliamentary committee would implement resolutions passed on such issues by parliament and the All Parties Conference (APC) that was held on September 29.
The APC adopted a resolution which said Pakistan "must initiate dialogue with a view to negotiate peace with our own people in the tribal areas and a proper mechanism for this (should) be put in place".
This has triggered speculation that the government is preparing for talks with all militant groups, including the Taliban.
During his interaction with the journalists, Gilani did not specifically refer to North Waziristan Agency – the tribal region where the Haqqani network is based – when talking about possible military operations.
He said the government's current approach was similar to the one that was tried in the Swat valley, where it offered a peace deal to Taliban militants in 2009 and launched a military operation after they refused to honour the pact.
Gilani made several references to the APC and the unanimous resolution adopted by it.
The premier had called the meeting of all political parties to forge consensus on a response to US accusations that the Inter-Services Intelligence agency was backing the Haqqani network in waging a proxy war in Afghanistan.
He contended that the show of unity at the APC had dissuaded the US from its "strident criticism of Pakistan" and claimed that Americans had agreed to forswear future unilateral action in Pakistan.
"There will be no (foreign) boots on Pakistani soil... Pakistan has gotten assurances from the United States that there will not be any unilateral action like the May 2 Abbottabad incident," Gilani said, referring to the covert US military raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Gilani chose to highlight Pakistan's desire to play a peacemaking role in Afghanistan.