PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN – In a video released Friday, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud said his organization could be open to talks with Islamabad, but poured scorn on the idea his men will give up their guns.
Mehsud, who has a $5 million U.S. government bounty on his head, said the militant group will consider negotiations with the Pakistani government — but only if it abandons ties with Washington.
The tape emerged after a spate of high-profile attacks claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in recent weeks, including an assault on Peshawar airport and the assassination of senior provincial politician Bashir Bilour.
“If Pakistan is serious about negotiations, it will have to give up U.S. slavery. We will then be ready for negotiations,” Mehsud said in the video.
“It is quite ridiculous to ask us to give up arms before entering into negotiations.
“But if Pakistan decides to open talks while remaining U.S. slaves, the talks will not succeed because a slave can never take independent decisions.”
He accused Islamabad of reneging on peace deals in the past under U.S. pressure, but did not elaborate.
The video, distributed to media organizations in northwest Pakistan, is undated, but it also shows Mehsud’s deputy, Wali-ur Rehman, discussing the killing of Bilour last Saturday, which suggests it was filmed sometime in the past week.
Rehman, who also has a $5 million U.S. government price on his head, accused Bilour’s Awami National Party, which rules in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, of selling the local people for American money.
“Our jihad against them is going on and will continue; their workers will be targeted,” he said.
He also denied recent reports suggesting a leadership struggle between him and Mehsud.
“We have no differences, there was propaganda in the media about a split in the TTP. We are one and united,” he said.
Mehsud assumed leadership of the TTP after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2009.
Search for policemen
Pakistani officials pressured tribal elders Friday to help rescue 23 policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban during attacks on their posts in the country’s troubled northwest tribal region.
Also Friday, missiles fired from unmanned U.S. aircraft killed four suspected militants at a training center elsewhere in the remote frontier area, the main sanctuary for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in the country, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
The 23 tribal policemen disappeared before dawn Thursday when militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked two posts in the Darra Adam Khel tribal region.