independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Taliban leaders want Khan for talks

The Pakistani Taliban named ex-cricketer Imran Khan as one of five figures wanted to represent them in peace talks with the government, a statement said (AP)

The Pakistani Taliban wants five well-known political and religious figures including ex-cricketer Imran Khan to represent them in peace talks with the government, according to a statement from the militant group.

Mr Khan's party said he was unlikely to accept the role. But the Taliban statement is one of their clearest signs to date welcoming the negotiations proposed by Pakistan's prime minister.

"The Taliban want to negotiate with the government with full sincerity and seriousness," the group said in an emailed statement.

It said the group "evolved a consensus on setting up such a team that could contact the government's team easily, and that could relay the Taliban's view to the government and Muslims of Pakistan effectively."

Mr Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the government in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa near the Taliban's tribal strongholds, said in a statement that the Taliban should select is own members as representatives. However, he said his party will discuss how it "can be of further assistance to further the dialogue".

Mr Khan is strongly pro-negotiations and has led a campaign against US drone strikes targeting militants in the north-west.

The other four prospective negotiators, three members of right-leaning parties and a hard-line cleric, indicated in recent days that they might speak for the militant group after media reports said that the Taliban had been considering them.

One, Maulana Abdul Aziz, is a cleric at the famed Red Mosque in the capital Islamabad.

One of the politicians, Maulana Samiul Haq, is the head of a large hard-line seminary in the north-west where Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omar and several of his top commanders are said to have studied.

The militant group's statement was a response to the Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif's recent announcement in parliament that his government would like to stick to its policy of a settlement through negotiations.

Press Association

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