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Taliban: We are in peace talks with Pakistan

The deputy leader of the Pakistani Taliban said Saturday that peace negotiations were underway with Pakistan's government, NBC News reported.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammad said the government had released 145 of their prisoners and halted military operation in the Bajaur tribal region.

The Pakistani Taliban, or the Tehrik-e-Taliban, has been waging a four-year war against the government in Islamabad and the peace talks could further fray the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Reuters said.

There was no immediate comment from the administration on whether talks were taking place. The United States, the source of billions of dollars of aid vital for Pakistan's military and feeble economy, is unlikely to look kindly on the peace talks with a group it has labeled as terrorists.

Speaking from somewhere in Afghanistan by phone, Mohammad said talks with the government started after the All Parties Conference in Islamabad a few months back, in which the political leadership supported peace negotiations with Pakistani Taliban for the restoration of peace.

"The Taliban were reluctant earlier to seriously take offers for peace talks came from the government as the government had lost its credibility by arresting some senior Taliban commanders in Swat such as Haji Muslim Khan ... (and) Mahmud Khan. They were invited for holding peace talks and were then taken into custody," the Taliban leader told NBC News.

No military solution
He said the government had recently showed some courage in changing its polices toward the Taliban and tribal regions.

"Our talks are going in the right direction," Mohammad told Reuters. 

He said the government had realized that there was no military solution to the conflict in Pakistan.

"We have no wish to fight against our own armed forces and destroy our own country," he said. "There has been development in our peace talks, but the government would have to show more flexibility in its stance, and restore the trust of Taliban by releasing their prisoners and stop military operations against them."

Mohammad said the militants had pledged a cease-fire. He added that Pakistan and Afghanistan should unite against what he called foreign occupations by non-Muslims.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as the TTP, is allied with the Afghan Taliban movement fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan.

It is entrenched in the unruly areas along the porous frontier. It pledged to overthrow the Pakistani government after the military started operations against the TTP.

Time to consolidate
Past peace pacts with the TTP have failed to bring stability, and merely gave the umbrella group time and space to consolidate, launch fresh attacks and impose their austere version of Islam on segments of the population.

Mohammad heads the TTP faction based in Bajaur, at the northeast end of the Pashtun belt along the border. He is known to be close to al-Qaida. His men focused on attacking into Afghanistan until U.S. drones, hunting for al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, began strikes in his area in early 2006.

Mohammad was believed to have been behind several attacks on Pakistani security forces. The army launched an offensive in Bajaur in August 2008 and largely cleared the region after months of at times heavy fighting.

The statement Saturday was the first time that a named commander has said the group is negotiating with the Pakistani government.The government has previously denied any such talks.

NBC News, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.