Authorities in Pakistan confirmed Saturday that an overnight ambush of a security convoy in the country’s northwest had killed five paramilitary forces.
A military statement said a “clearance operation is in progress to eliminate any terrorist found in the area” in North Waziristan, a volatile district next to the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The outlawed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban, is reported to have claimed responsibility for the deadly ambush.
TTP, an alliance of extremist groups, has waged terrorist attacks in Pakistan for many years, killing thousands of civilians and security forces.
Pakistan has conducted sustained military operations against the group’s bases near the Afghan border, killing thousands of militants and forcing others to flee to Afghanistan. The security action, officials say, has significantly degraded the militant threat and led to a marked reduction in violence.
But TTP attacks have spiked in recent weeks, particularly in northwestern and southwestern parts of the country, killing dozens of security personnel.
Friday’s ambush came on the same day Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said in an interview that his government was engaged in talks with “some groups” of the TTP to try to persuade them to lay down arms in return for an amnesty.
Khan said the negotiations were taking place in Afghanistan, where TTP leaders have taken shelter, and the new Taliban rulers of the neighboring country are acting as intermediaries.
“There are different groups which form the Pakistani Taliban or TTP, yes, so we are in talks with some of them on a reconciliation process,” Khan told the Turkish state-owned broadcaster TRT World. “We might not reach some sort of conclusion or settlement in the end, but we are talking.” he said.
A spokesperson for the TTP has reportedly denied divisions in its ranks but did not question Khan’s assertions the two sides are engaged in peace talks.
The Afghan Taliban, who regained power in Kabul in August after ousting the Western-backed government, are under international pressure to disallow transnational militants from using Afghanistan for launching terrorist attacks against other countries.
The United States and the United Nations have both designated TTP as a global terrorist organization.
TTP leaders denounce the Pakistani constitution as un-Islamic and demand that Islamic law, or Shariah, be enforced in Pakistan. It also wants release of its members captured by security forces during counterterrorism operations.
But senior Pakistani security officials rule out accepting any TTP demands, insisting the amnesty would be offered within the framework of the country’s constitution and law that require the militants to surrender their firearms.