Pakistani paramilitary troops patrol a road to ensure security on the route of Shiite Muslim's Ashoura procession in Peshawar, Pakistan, on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011. Ashura, which falls on the 10th of Muharram under the Islamic lunar calendar, is one of the most important holy days for Shiite Muslims, It marks the death of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein. (AP Photo/Mohammad Sajjad)
Pakistan's interior minister thanked the country's Taliban militant movement Tuesday for not staging attacks during this year's Shiite ritual of Ashoura, a remark likely to draw criticism as the country grapples with how to subdue the extremists.
The Pakistani Taliban and other Sunni extremist groups have frequently bombed Shiite processions during Ashoura.
The government has declared war on the group, but in recent weeks there have been unconfirmed reports of peace talks with at least some factions within the Taliban.
Unlike in neighboring Afghanistan, where a suicide bomber killed more than 50 Shiites earlier Tuesday, the Ashoura observances passed peacefully in Pakistan this year.
Speaking to reporters in the capital, Islamabad, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had appealed to the Taliban to "respect" the Shiite observances and "I want to thank them for doing that."
It was unclear whether Malik, who has a history of making controversial, insensitive or wrong statements, was referring to a formal appeal to the Taliban. He has previously denied the reports of peace talks with the group. The government's official line is that it will talk to any militant outfit if it renounces violence and lays down its arms.
The Pakistani Taliban and allied groups have claimed responsibility for hundreds of suicide bombings over the last five years that have killed thousands as part of a campaign to replace the secular government with a hard-line Islamist one. They regard Shiites as infidels, and believe killing them is a religious obligation.
The army has attacked its strongholds in the northwest close to the Afghan border.
Despite the Taliban's violence, there is political and public support for a peace deal with the group.
Many Pakistanis share its hard-line religious views and anti-American stance, and believe the militants could be brought into the fold if only Islamabad severed its alliance with Washington, which they blame for the insurgency.