ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The presumptive prime minister called Monday for peace talks with Taliban militants at war with the government, potentially charting a course that could put him at odds with the country's powerful army.
Nawaz Sharif said that "terrorism" was one of the most serious problems plaguing the country and that any offer by the Pakistani Taliban to talk "should be taken seriously."
"All options should be tried, and guns are not a solution to all problems," Sharif said in a speech to newly elected members of his party in the eastern city of Lahore.
The Pakistani Taliban has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years that has killed thousands of people. The militants say they are fighting to enforce Islamic law in the country and end the government's alliance with the United States.
The Pakistani army has launched multiple operations against the Taliban in its strongholds along the border with Afghanistan, but the militants have proven resilient and carry out near-daily attacks.
Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who met with Sharif on Saturday for the first time since the May 11 election, laid out strict conditions last month for any potential peace deal with the Taliban.
"We sincerely desire that all those who have strayed and have picked up arms against the nation return to the national fold," Kayani said in a rare public speech. "However, this is only possible once they unconditionally submit to the state, its constitution, and the rule of law."
It's unclear whether Sharif's concept of peace fits within this framework. Activists have raised concerns that Sharif's government could accept militant demands that would threaten human rights in the country, especially for women.
The Taliban has shown an inclination to negotiate with Sharif, known to be a devout Muslim and whose party has been criticized for not cracking down on Islamic militants in its stronghold of Punjab Province.
Also Monday, suspected militants killed a police officer guarding a polio vaccination team in Pakistan's northwest Bajur tribal area, said local administrator Faramosh Khan. It was the latest in a spate of attacks on polio workers in the last six months.