Days after President Asif Ali Zardari said the doors had never been closed for talks with militants, the Taliban have announced that their leadership would hold negotiations only if troops are "completely" withdrawn from Pakistan's northwest and adjoining tribal belt.
The Taliban's condition for talks was conveyed by unnamed militant leaders to 'The News' daily.
The militants said their leadership would hold negotiations on one point – "complete withdrawal" of troops from all parts of the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas.
"Taliban do not want to see Pakistan weak but the government's steps always negate our stance because of which the leadership of the Taliban is left with no option but to take steps for their defence," said one of the Taliban leaders who was contacted by the newspaper for comments on Zardari's statement.
This Taliban leader did not "advance any explicit argument in support of suicide attacks in Pakistan," the report said.
The daily quoted another source among the militants as saying that all militant groups in Pakistan, which are "almost united at the moment," are considering Zardari's comments as their victory.
He said the militant leadership in the tribal areas, where security forces are currently conducting operations, feels that perhaps security forces are "finding a safe exit for themselves" because of which Zardari made such a statement.
Zardari, who is currently on a visit to Britain, told the media that his government had never closed the door for talks with the Taliban.
"We never closed the dialogue," Zardari said, skirting the question as to when talks could actually resume. "We had an agreement, which they (the Taliban) broke. (Talks will resume) whenever they feel we're strong enough and they can't win, because they won't win. It will be a painful difficult task, but defeat is not an option for us," Zardari said.