The government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province has announced millions of dollars in bounty for help in killing or arresting Taliban leaders and foot soldiers.
The rewards are a radical departure from the previous stance of the Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) and Islamist Jammat-e Islami (JI) led provincial administration, which advocated negotiations with the Taliban and even termed their insurgency a reaction to suspected U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan.
The rewards are offered as part of a series of antiterrorism moves since the December 16 massacre of nearly 150 pupils and teachers in a military-run school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's capital, Peshawar.
Mushtaq Ghani, the provincial information minister, says the administration has allocated $7.5 million in bounty for providing information on some 615 militant leaders.
Ghani told RFE/RL's Gandhara website the change in policy was caused by the anti-Taliban public anger after the school massacre and was not dictated by the country's powerful military, which has declared an all-out war against the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which claimed responsibility for the attack.
"We were in favor of talks with the Taliban because the fight against them dragged on for a long time without any result," he said. "However, the immense anger after the Peshawar school attack united the nation. So we also joined in and opted for this path of action."
Pakistan’s English-language daily "Dawn" reported that the TTP's chief, Maulana Fazlullah, and Mangal Bagh, chief of another banned outfit, Lashkar-e Islam, topped the list of fugitive militant leaders with a $100,000 reward on their heads.
For years, Pakistan was accused of taking half-hearted steps against the Taliban including going after some militant groups while sparing others. But the Peshawar attack seems to have united the civil and military leadership, and they have agreed on a series of antiterrorism measures including military courts for suspected terrorists.
The PTI and JI have also joined the national antiterrorism sentiment. For years prior to the school massacre, the two parties ignored attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjacent tribal areas. After winning provincial parliamentary elections in 2013, PTI chief Imran Khan offered to open an office for the Taliban in Peshawar to facilitate negotiations.
Before the 2013 polls, Khan called the decade-old Islamist insurgency an alien war caused by the West. His party blamed the hundreds of drone strikes against Taliban and allied Al-Qaeda and Central Asian militant leaders for fomenting unrest in the tribal areas and provoking a Taliban insurgency in retaliation.
Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist, told Gandhara the the two parties faced public pressure to join the national outrage against Islamic militants following the Peshawar attack.
"My information is that they were also pressured by the military. Imran Khan was not ready to attend the meeting of all political leaders called by Prime Minister Sharif a day after the attack in Peshawar," he said. "[But] he was told by the military to participate in the meeting."