Pakistan terror incidents threaten peace talks with Taliban

Pakistani police officers, collect evidence from the site of a suicide bombing in Quetta, Pakistan, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012. A suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims in southwest Pakistan on Sunday, killing several people, a government official and eyewitnesses said.
AP Photo/Arshad Butt

ISLAMABAD The killing of 41 people in two separate terrorist incidents in Pakistan appeared on Sunday to temporarily halt prospects for immediate peace talks between Pakistani authorities and Taliban militants, two senior Pakistani intelligence officers and a senior western diplomat in Islamabad warned.

Both intelligence officers said that the fallout of the killings may even harm U.S. plans to peacefully draw down troops from Afghanistan, with Pakistan's active backing.

In the first incident, 21 Pakistani paramilitary guards working in the northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province who were kidnapped last week by the Taliban were confirmed dead on Saturday.

"All the 21 young men were brutally killed by their captors," said one Pakistani intelligence officer who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity because intelligence officers are not allowed to speak to journalists.

He said that the kidnapped men's killings may have been triggered in part by the Pakistani government's refusal to release some Taliban militants in custody.

After the men were kidnapped, a senior government official in the northern city of Peshawar, the provincial capital, told CBS News that the Taliban were demanding the release of some of their fellow militants in Pakistan's custody in exchange for the 21 men.

In the second incident on Sunday, at least 20 Pakistanis of the Shia Muslim faith were killed and more than 20 wounded when a car bomb targeted their convoy of buses being driven through the southwestern Baluchistan province to the Iranian border.

Pakistani officials said the dead were heading to Iran's northern holy city of Mashhad to attend an important Shiite commemoration in the coming week.

The second Pakistani intelligence officer who spoke to CBS News said that the killings in Baluchistan "seem to be linked to factions associated with the Taliban.

"These killings make it practically impossible for the government to have a peace dialogue with the Taliban," the officer said. "No one will speak to these people while we have a gun pointed to our heads."

In the past, representatives of Pakistan's Shia Muslims have claimed that the Taliban (who belong to a hardline version of the Sunni Muslim faith) have been involved in attacks on Shiites in Baluchistan.

The two terrorist incidents were preceded by reports of the Taliban sending messages to senior leaders of President Asif Ali Zardari's administration in Islamabad, seeking peace talks to end a decade-long conflict with the Pakistan army.

Senior government officials have reacted cautiously, with some suggesting that the offer should be carefully considered, while others have warned that the Taliban will not agree to end their attacks on Pakistani troops until a final settlement, on their terms, comes together.

"The two brutal terrorist incidents are a major cause of concern. They suggest there's no appetite among the Taliban for a peaceful end to the war," said a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad who also spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity.

He warned that in addition to Pakistan's own internal security conditions, more violence will make it harder for the country to cooperate with the U.S. in facilitating an orderly American troop drawdown from Afghanistan by end of 2014.

"Pakistan will be the main route for U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan. If there is no end to Taliban violence in Pakistan, the drawdown will face threats," added the diplomat.