Pakistan demands ceasefire from Taliban to restart talks

AFP , Tuesday 18 Feb 2014

Pakistan government mediators in peace talks with the Taliban set a ceasefire on Tuesday as a pre-condition to the resumption of negotiations which were suspended over the execution of kidnapped soldiers at the weekend.

A faction of the insurgent group said they had killed 23 soldiers on Sunday, leading to condemnation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the cancellation of scheduled talks between mediators on Monday.

Following a meeting on Tuesday in Islamabad, the government negotiators led by Irfan Siddiqui briefed the prime minister and said they had received a "discouraging response" since talks were announced on January 29.

"The Prime Minister was told that the committee was unable to carry forward the dialogue process in the absence of an announcement by the Taliban ceasing violent activities and then implementing the decision," a statement said.

Excluding the dead soldiers, some 60 people have died in Islamist-linked violence since the talks began.

A senior Taliban negotiator told AFP that the militant group was working towards a ceasefire which might have been agreed at Monday's cancelled meeting.

"The issue was on top of Monday's meeting between the two committees, which was called off by government negotiators," Professor Muhammad Ibrahim said.

"There was a strong possibility that we could have agreed on a ceasefire had the meeting taken place," Ibrahim added.

He said he had spoken to senior Taliban commander Azam Tariq and we "are making efforts for resumption of the stalled talks."

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP that "we are in contact with all Taliban groups on the issue of ceasefire and hope to reach a decision pretty soon."

He said that implementing a ceasefire would "not be very difficult".

Some observers have raised doubts about the influence of the central Taliban command and its ability to control all factions, including some who are opposed to negotiations.

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