ISLAMABAD: A negotiator for the Pakistani Taliban said yesterday he was “confident” the militants would extend their month-long ceasefire, following a first round of direct talks with the government.
The government began negotiations with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through intermediaries last month to end the Islamists’ bloody seven-year insurgency.
On Wednesday a four-member government committee of three civil servants and a former diplomat held their first meeting with TTP’s political council in North Waziristan tribal district.
Few details have emerged from talks but extending a Taliban ceasefire, declared to help the peace process but expires next week, was seen as a top priority.
Professor Muhammad Ibrahim, a member of the Taliban’s original negotiating committee who attended the session said he was hopeful this would be achieved.
“We are confident that the ceasefire will be extended,” he said. “Our efforts will be to ensure that there is a permanent ceasefire.”
Ibrahim said both sides were trying to build confidence in one another and would meet for more talks in “the next few days”.
TTP has also asked the government to release around 300 people, including women and children, it says are being held despite being “non-combatants”.
There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants, including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed in return.
Peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
Some analysts have voiced scepticism about their chances for success, given the Taliban’s demands for nation-wide Shariah law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
Hasan Askari, a leading security and political analyst, said even after stepping up talks to the “direct” level, discussions were stuck on procedural matters and “dancing around the critical issues”.
Regional deals in the past between the military and the Taliban have failed and some have accused the militants of using them as a means to regroup and rearm.
Askari said he expected TTP to extend its ceasefire to avoid the army launching a ground offensive against its strongholds in North Waziristan, an operation many had been predicting earlier in the year.
“But the question is how will they address the key issue, peace on what terms, and secondly will the Taliban agree to give up violent activities and work within the framework of constitution?” Askari said.
“This they are not likely to accept because it will mean losing their identity, and they will have to work as a political party.”
Attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the ceasefire, further undermining the process.AFP