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Taliban leader welcomes peace talks

Unclear if others in Pakistan agree

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan — A senior Pakistani Taliban commander welcomed the government’s recent offer to hold peace talks Thursday, raising the possibility the militant group has changed its stance after shunning negotiations earlier this year.

Asmatullah Muawiya, head of the Taliban’s faction of fighters from central Punjab province, said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘‘demonstrated political maturity’’ by reiterating his offer to hold peace talks in a speech on Monday.

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‘‘If the present government takes an interest in solving matters seriously and with prudence, then there is no reason why jihadi forces active in Pakistan shouldn’t respond to it positively,’’ Muawiya said in a statement issued to journalists.

It is not entirely certain whether the Pakistani Taliban’s top leadership shares his sentiments. But they have backed previous statements made by Muawiya, saying he should be seen as having their support.

The commander was the first person to indicate at the end of last year that the Pakistani Taliban were open to holding peace talks.

Muawiya sent a letter to a local newspaper outlining conditions for a cease-fire, including the imposition of Islamic law and an end to the government’s unpopular alliance with the United States.

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud then released a video in which he said the group would consider a serious offer to talk but would not lay down their weapons as a precondition.

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