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Taliban leadership splintering over claims of ceasefire with Karachi

The Pakistani Taliban's spokesman yesterday disputed claims by other militant commanders that the group agreed to a ceasefire with the government, raising the prospect that one of the country's deadliest terror groups is splitting into factions.

The spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, pointed to an attack yesterday on a police station in the north-west that he said was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. Two officers were killed and four were wounded.

The attack came two days after a senior Pakistani Taliban commander told the Associated Press the group declared a ceasefire a month ago to encourage nascent peace talks with the government.

The conflicting statements could represent opposing positions within the Pakistani Taliban leadership about whether the group should pursue peace with the government after years of fighting that has killed tens of thousands of militants, civilians and security personnel.

A third senior Pakistani Taliban commander told the AP yesterday that the group has declared a ceasefire to encourage talks, but both were limited to the South Waziristan tribal area, which served as the militants' main sanctuary before the military launched a large offensive in 2009. The two senior Taliban commanders spoke on condition of anonymity.

Even if the Pakistani Taliban leadership in South Waziristan agreed to a ceasefire, it's unclear whether all the militants claiming to be under the group's banner would obey the directive.

The Pakistani Taliban, allied with al-Qa'ida and based in the northwest close to the Afghan border, has been behind much of the violence tearing apart Pakistan over the last four years. At least 35,000 people have been killed in guerrilla attacks and army offensives. The Taliban wants to oust the US-backed government and install a hardline Islamist regime.