Associated Press

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ The Pakistani Taliban withdrew their offer of peace talks Thursday, following the death of the group’s deputy leader in an American drone attack, a spokesman for the insurgent group said.

The news is a blow to the incoming government of Nawaz Sharif, elected partly on promises to bring about peace after years of deadly attacks by militants against civilians and security forces.

Ahsanullah Ahsan confirmed to The Associated Press in a telephone call from an undisclosed location Thursday that the group’s second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed Wednesday in an American drone attack in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials said at the time that at least four other militants were killed in the attack.

The militant group had said earlier that it was open to peace talks. But Ahsan said Thursday that the Taliban believe the government approves of the drone strikes so they are withdrawing their offer of peace talks.

“We had made the offer for peace talks with the government with good intention but we think that these drone attacks are carried out with the approval of the government so we announce the end of the talks process,” he said.

The Pakistani Taliban, formed in late 2007, aims to overthrow the Pakistani government, which it believes is too closely aligned with the United States. The militant group has been responsible for hundreds of shootings and bombings across Pakistan that have resulted in thousands of deaths.

Earlier this year the group had indicated it was open to the idea of peace talks to end years of fighting if certain individuals including two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif were involved.

The talks did not go anywhere at the time but the victory of Sharif’s party at the polls on May 11 once again brought the issue to the forefront.

Days after the election Sharif, who is set to become prime minister for a third time, called for peace talks with the Taliban militants.

Sharif said Taliban offers to talk should be taken seriously.