Pakistan enters peace talks with Taliban

The session, which has now ended, was aimed at charting a “roadmap” for peace talks to end a decade-long insurgency.

The government side entered the talks “wholeheartedly”, the interior ministry told the BBC.

Militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been waging an insurgency inside Pakistan since 2007.

The first session lasted about three hours. The talks initiative was announced last week by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, following a spate of attacks.

More than 100 people, including soldiers, died in Taliban attacks across the country in January. Thousands have been killed since the TTP came to the fore in 2007.

Doubts over success

The chief negotiator for the government side, Irfan Siddiqui, said the government committee was attending the talks with “an open mind”, the Pakistan Tribune reports.

Then in a text message from the meeting, Mr Siddiqui said: “Talks on… Cordial and friendly”.

This much-anticipated meeting marks what some hope could be a start of a peace process in Pakistan, says the BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani in Pakistan. Others are deeply sceptical and see it as a sign of weakness on the part of the government, he adds.

Joining Mr Siddiqui on the government team was veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah.

The Taliban, who want to see Sharia (Islamic law) imposed throughout Pakistan, have refrained from naming representatives within their own ranks. They instead nominated pro-Taliban religious figures to represent their views.

The three-man TTP team comprised Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the “Father of the Taliban”; the chief cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz; and the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ibrahim Khan.

Originally scheduled for 4 February, the meeting was delayed after the government side asked for clarification about the composition of the team representing the Pakistan Taliban.

But the Taliban urged the government to start the talks and see for themselves whether the team had a mandate.

Since taking office last May, Prime Minister Sharif has come under mounting pressure to bring the violence under control, with many accusing his government of lacking a strategy to deal with the militants, correspondents say.

He recently said he wanted to end the insurgency by peaceful means, but has indicated that stronger military action will be used if talks fail.

Correspondents say some in Pakistan are worried the talks will only allow the militants time to gain strength and regroup. Previous attempts to engage the Pakistani Taliban in dialogue have all failed.

In addition to demanding the imposition of Islamic rule in Pakistan, the Taliban say they want US troops to withdraw from the region.

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