Pakistan Feels Pressure To Make Peace With Islamist Militants

As their neighbors, the Afghans, shuffle distrustfully toward the negotiating table with the Taliban, Pakistanis are wondering what this means for them. Their own wars have already claimed tens of thousands of lives, and continue to yield daily atrocities.

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In Pakistan overnight, U.S. drone strikes reportedly killed more than a dozen people. The targets appeared to be militants linked to Afghanistan's Taliban movement. Last week, a militant group linked to the Taliban killed 10 foreign climbers in Pakistan. There is a Taliban presence in Pakistan and the government is under increasing pressure to cut a peace deal with these homegrown militants. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

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PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Ismail Khan has been covering conflict in Pakistan for years. He's editor of Dawn newspaper in Peshawar. Peshawar's on the front line, close to the tribal belt and the Afghan border. So far this year, more than 160 people have been killed in Peshawar by militant attacks. Khan worries about the affect this has on his family, especially his children - they're just seven and nine.

ISMAIL KHAN: They know about suicide bombing. They know about terrorism. They know about Taliban. They know even the name of the Taliban commander more than they know the names of any of Pakistani national heroes.

REEVES: You often hear worries like this from Pakistanis these days. Many are exhausted by years of bloodshed. They crave peace. They're just not sure how to secure it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing in foreign language)

REEVES: In the Hindu Kush Mountains, thousands of Pakistanis are gathered in a field. This is a summer festival organized by Pakistan's army in Kalam, a remote town in Swat. The Taliban roamed freely around here until the army drove them out a few years ago. The area is still tense. Businessman Mohammad Ershad has come with his family as a statement of support for peace.

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REEVES: He believes Pakistan's government should now negotiate with the Taliban.

MOHAMMAD ERSHAD: Negotiation is very good way to clear all these things. You know, we are suffering too much. Last 10 years, we are suffering everyone in Pakistan, too much suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

SHABIR KAHN: (unintelligible). You didn't ask any one question about (unintelligible) from America.

REEVES: Shabir Kahn, a young businessman, interrupts. He too wants peace talks but says they'll go nowhere if the U.S. continues firing missiles from drones at targets in Pakistan's tribal belt.

KAHN: Drone will never change anything. It will just make people crazy in Pakistan. Just ask all the people in here. Just ask them.

REEVES: Pakistan's recently elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, has said he's willing to sit down with the Pakistani Taliban. Taliban leaders have indicated they're interested too.

MUSHAHID HUSSAIN SAYED: I think that people do feel that peace should be given a chance, and let's see if the government can pull it off.

REEVES: That's Mushahid Hussain Sayed, who chairs the defense committee of Pakistan's Senate. He says Pakistan's government should negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban - if certain conditions are met.

SAYED: A secession of all acts of terror, accepting the writ of the state and accepting the constitution of Pakistan because that is what the majority of people want.

REEVES: There are huge obstacles along the way. For example, the Taliban's never shown any sign of recognizing the legitimacy of Pakistan's constitution, says Muhammad Ziauddin, executive editor of the Express Tribune.

MUHAMMAD ZIAUDDIN: Nawaz Sharif will not enter into talks with anybody who does not believe in our constitution. So, that does...

REEVES: So, that's a non-starter then.

ZIAUDDIN: That's a non-starter. I don't think there's going to be any talks.

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REEVES: Back in Peshawar, Ismail Khan ponders who might happen if there's a peace deal in neighboring Afghanistan. He's concerned the Afghan Taliban might wind up controlling territory abutting North Waziristan, where the Pakistani Taliban and their allies are based.

KHAN: That could mean trouble for us.

REEVES: Ties between the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan are very close. The Pakistani militants have provided much support to their fellow Pashtuns fighting the war in Afghanistan. They've sacrificed homes and lives. Khan says if the Afghan Taliban secure a share of power in Kabul, they'll be expected to return the favor.

KHAN: I think that they would be morally bound to do so, yeah.

REEVES: This is why Pakistan's government needs to do something soon, says Khan.

KHAN: Pakistan has to regain control of its tribal area before the Americans start pulling out from Afghanistan in 2014. This is absolutely important. You can't just leave situation and an area in a state of flux. How are you going to deal with it?

REEVES: Khan has another question.

KHAN: What are they going to do with al-Qaida and bunch of other foreign groups which are operating here in this region? How do you deal with them?

REEVES: It's about what happens if there's a peace deal. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad.

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