ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban have asked the government to release from jail 300 people they say are non-combatants, as part of an ongoing peace process aimed at ending the militants' seven-year insurgency.
A list handed over by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) includes women, children and old men, a negotiator for the group told AFP on Tuesday, saying their release would boost the dialogue process that began in February.
"The Taliban gave us a list of around 300 detainees during our recent visit to North Waziristan, which we have handed over to Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan," professor Muhammad Ibrahim told AFP.
"The interior minister assured us he would look into the list and thoroughly investigate the matter."
A spokesman for the interior ministry could not be immediately reached for comment on whether Pakistan is holding the non-combatants.
The government opened negotiations with the TTP last month in a bid to end their bloody seven-year insurgency.
The process broke down for more than two weeks after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers, but later resumed after the Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire.
In an effort to take the talks to a higher level, the government last week formed a new four-member committee to begin direct contact with the Taliban.
Ibrahim said the venue for the next round was still under discussion.
"We hope that the two sides will be able to decide about the place of talks in the next few days," he added.
Negotiations have so far been conducted through teams of go-betweens, which some observers say has hampered their effectiveness.
The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
But analysts are sceptical about their chances for success, given the Taliban's demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
Many regional deals between the military and the Taliban have failed in the past.
Moreover, attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the Taliban ceasefire.
Two separate bomb attacks on Friday killed 19 people, with both blasts claimed by the dissident Ahrar-ul-Hind faction. (AFP)