Despite promises to talk, PM Nawaz gets tough on insurgents

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Months after promising peace talks with insurgents, Pakistan's new prime minister appears to be backing down and accepting that the use of military force may be unavoidable in the face of escalating violence across the South Asian country.
Almost 200 people have been killed in rebel attacks in Pakistan since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power last month, advocating peace talks with the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.
Sharif's tougher line signals that Pakistan's powerful military still has the upper hand in policy-making, despite hopes that the government would have a larger say after he came to power in the country's first transition between civilian administrations.
"Of course we want to try talks but they are a far off possibility," said a government official, who has knowledge of discussions between civilian and military leaders on how to tackle the Taliban.
"There is so much ground work that needs to be done. And when you are dealing with a group as diverse and internally divided as the Pakistani Taliban, then you can never be sure that every sub-group would honour talks."
The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half the 66 years it has been independent.
Seeking to dispel a view that he is losing the momentum, Sharif, who once said that "guns and bullets are not always the answer", has promised to come up with a new security strategy.
But progress has been painfully slow, blighted by infighting and the army's long-standing contempt for the civilian leadership.
An official report into the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces in Pakistan in 2011, leaked this month, offered striking insights into just how deep this distrust runs.
In the document, the former chief of the ISI intelligence agency, which is dominated by the military, was quoted as saying bluntly that the country's political leadership was "unable to formulate any policy".
In the meantime, attacks continue unabated.
A bomb ripped through a busy street in Lahore on July 7, striking in the heart of Sharif's otherwise relatively peaceful home city. President Asif Ali Zardari's security chief was killed in a suicide bomb in Karachi on July 10.
"They (the Pakistani Taliban) see this as an opportunity. They want to send a message to Nawaz Sharif of their strength and his relative weakness," said Ahmed Rashid, an author and expert on the Taliban.
"The army is against the talks right now. They want to hammer these guys a little bit more."
Yet, the military and the ISI are in favour of talks involving the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Although the Pakistani Taliban accepts the leader of the Afghan faction as its own leader, the two groups operate separately.

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