The Pakistani Taliban is in peace talks with the Pakistani government, a senior commander in the militant group said today, adding that the negotiations were "progressing well."
The statement by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is the first time a named Taliban commander has confirmed that the group is negotiating with the Pakistani government.
Mohammad, said to be the deputy chief of the group, said his men had held "peace talks with relevant government officials."
"They are progressing well, and we may soon sign a formal peace agreement with the government," he said in a telephone conversation.
Last month, anonymous militants and intelligence officials said exploratory peace talks were under way.
The government and the army denied any such talks after those reports were published, as did a spokesman for the Taliban.
It is unclear whether Mohammad speaks for the group's entirety. The network, which has declared war on the Pakistani state and carried out hundreds of bloody suicide attacks around the country, is believed to have splintered into different factions over the last year.
Government officials were not available for fresh reaction.
Mohammad's main area of strength is the Bajur tribal region, which has seen military operations over the past three years that army commanders have claimed wiped out militancy there.
Mohammad said any deal in Bajur could be "role model" for the rest of the border region.
The United States is unlikely to support peace moves with militants from the Pakistani Taliban.
Previous deals in the northwest close to the Afghan border have been used by the insurgents to rest and regroup.
The Pakistan Taliban are allied with, and give safe haven to, militants fighting Western troops across the frontier in Afghanistan. AP