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Pakistani Taliban chief says group won't disarm but may negotiate

Handout via EPA

Hakimullah Mehsud, right, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, records a video with deputy chief Wali ur-Rehman. The video was given to Reuters on Dec. 28.

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — On the heels of weeks of high-profile insurgent attacks in Pakistan, the head of the country's Taliban released a video saying his militia is willing to negotiate with the government but not to disarm.

The release of the 40-minute video to Reuters follows several significant Taliban attacks in the northern city of Peshawar this month. Among them was a sophisticated attack on the airport that began with multiple suicide bombings and spread to ground fighting in a nearby neighborhood; a car bombing that killed 17 people in a marketplace; another bombing that killed nine people, including a senior politician who was among the group's most outspoken critics; the killing of eight polio workers within 48 hours; and the kidnap of 22 paramilitary forces on Thursday.

At least 17 people are dead and dozens wounded when a car bomb detonated in a crowded market in Peshawar, Pakistan. NBCNews.com's Dara Brown reports.

The attacks underline the Taliban's ability to strike high-profile, well-protected targets even as the amount of territory it controls has shrunk and its leaders have been picked off by U.S. drones. An intelligence source in Pakistan has told NBCNews.com that the Taliban appears to be trying to wrap up the year in a position of power. Another intelligence source said the attacks may be "payback" for Pakistan's easing of relations with the United States.

In the video, Hakimullah Mehsud says, "We believe in dialogue, but it should not be frivolous. Asking us to lay down arms is a joke."

Mehsud sits cradling a rifle next to his deputy, Wali ur-Rehman. Military officials say there has been a split between the two men, but Mehsud said that was propaganda.

"Wali ur-Rehman is sitting with me here and we will be together until death," said Mehsud, pointing at his companion.

Pakistani officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

The Taliban said in a letter released Thursday that they wanted Pakistan to rewrite its laws and constitution to conform with Islamic law, break its alliance with the United States, and stop interfering in the war in Afghanistan and focus on India instead.

Mehsud referred to the killing of the senior politician in his speech and said the political party, the largely Pashtun Awami National Party, would continue to be a target along with other politicians.

"We are against the democratic system because it is un-Islamic," Mehsud said. "Our war isn't against any party. It is against the non-Islamic system and anyone who supports it."

Pakistan is due to hold elections next spring. The current government, which came to power five years ago, struck an uneasy deal with the Taliban in 2009 that allowed the militia to control Swat valley, less than 60 miles from the capital, Islamabad.

A few months later, the military launched an operation that pushed the militants back. The U.S. military also intensified its use of drone strikes.

Now the Taliban control far less territory and the frequency and deadliness of their bombings has declined dramatically.

NBCNews.com's Waj Khan and John Newland and Reuters contributed to this report.

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