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Pakistan peace talks with Taliban militants delayed

Updated: 2014-02-05 07:49
By Agence France-Presse in Islamabad ( China Daily)

Negotiators for the Pakistani Taliban said on Tuesday that government representatives had refused to show up for planned peace talks, citing confusion over the militants' team.

The two sides had been scheduled to gather in Islamabad at 2 pm (local time) to chart a "road map" for talks, amid a surge in militant violence and skepticism about the chances of reaching a negotiated peace.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif caused surprise last week by announcing a team to begin dialogue with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has been waging a violent insurgency since 2007.

Many observers had been anticipating a military offensive against TTP strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas, following a bloody start to the year. More than 110 people were killed in militant attacks in January, many of them military personnel.

The head of the TTP's talks committee, hard-line cleric Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, said he was disappointed the government team had failed to show up as agreed.

"I received a phone call from Irfan Siddiqui who said confusion still persisted because the composition of the Taliban committee has changed from five to three," Haq said. Siddiqui is leading the government negotiators.

"Citing this reason, he said the government committee could not come."

AFP were unable to reach the government for an immediate comment.

Bleak hopes

Washington has long pressured Pakistan to take action against militants using tribal areas as a base to attack NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.

Talk of a full offensive in North Waziristan rose last month when the air force bombarded suspected Taliban hideouts following two major attacks on military targets.

But no operation was launched and critics accused Sharif's government of dithering in response to the resurgent violence.

Even before Tuesday's abortive start, media held out scant hope for the talks.

The TTP has said in the past that it opposes democracy and wants Islamic sharia law imposed throughout Pakistan, while the government has stressed the country's constitution must remain paramount.

English-language daily The Nation predicted the "peace talks balloon will burst soon enough".

"The ambiguity and confusion still exists because the political leadership has been extremely hesitant towards taking a clear stand and calling a spade a spade for a change," it said in an editorial on Tuesday.

The News predicted the process would be "long and excruciating ... since neither committee contains anyone with the authority to make decisions".

The government team consists of senior journalists Siddiqui and Rahimullah Yusufzai, former diplomat Rustam Shah Mohmand and retired major Mohammad Aamir, formerly of the Inter Services Intelligence agency.

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