ISLAMABAD — Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting political leaders and top generals Monday as he pushes for talks with militants who have increased the intensity of attacks since his government took office in June.
Sharif, who was elected for a record third term earlier this year, invited leaders of the main political groups to Islamabad, including Islamic opposition parties that sympathize with the Pakistani Taliban operating near the border with Afghanistan. Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and spy chief Lieutenant General Zaheer ul Islam are also attending.
“I have suggested to political leaders that meaningful negotiations with militants should be our first priority,” Sharif told participants of the conference in comments broadcast live on television. “I don’t know where we will go from here if we fail to tackle the menace of terrorism.”
The strategy risks causing a split with the military and the U.S. — Pakistan’s largest donor — as Sharif receives help from the International Monetary Fund to revive an economy hurt by power blackouts and militant attacks.
The United States wants Pakistan’s army to halt attacks from Taliban insurgents operating on the border before handing over security to Afghan forces next year.
The army, which in 2009 extended its operation into the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, may be reluctant to support initiatives that buy the guerrillas time to rearm or assert their control over territory, according to Talat Masood, a retired army general and independent political analyst.
“Pakistan doesn’t have a coherent anti-terrorism strategy,” Masood said by phone Monday. “Instead of taking the bull by the horns, Sharif is trying to pass on the responsibility to others. I don’t think this approach of getting all on the same page will work.”
The army dominates security policy and has previously opposed talks with militants. Kayani said in an April speech that insurgents were responsible for killing 40,000 soldiers and civilians since Pakistan decided to support the U.S. war in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai held talks with Sharif last month to win support for starting negotiations with Taliban insurgents. Karzai has said Pakistan is crucial to bringing the Taliban and other militants, which still control large areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, into talks.
Pakistani leaders have let Taliban-affiliated militant groups like the Haqqani Network operate from Northern Waziristan “due to their concerns that Pakistan will be left alone to confront an unstable, an unfriendly or an Indian-influenced Afghanistan on its borders” once U.S. troops leave, according to a Defense Department report last year.
Pakistan’s Taliban movement is a loose group of militant and sectarian organizations that are opposed to the country’s security alliance with the United States and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law.
In June, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing 10 people in the mountainous northern region, including nine foreign climbers. It was the most audacious attack on foreigners in Pakistan since the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad in 2008.
Sharif and Imran Khan, a former cricketer whose group emerged as the third-largest political party in May’s poll, supported talks with militants in their election campaigns. Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party formed a government in the northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban.
Previous agreements between the army and the Taliban failed to take hold. A 2009 pact to end fighting in the Swat valley in return for placing the region under Shariah rule was abandoned after insurgents broke the agreement and advanced to within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of Islamabad.
The Pakistani Taliban withdrew an offer for talks earlier this year after a U.S. drone aircraft on May 29 killed the Taliban’s No. 2 commander, Waliur Rehman, the Dawn newspaper reported May 31, citing the group’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan.
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