Pakistan and Taliban negotiators call for higher-level talks

AFP , Thursday 6 Mar 2014

Nawaz Sharif, PML-N leader, speaks to reporters at his Lahore home. He urged Imran Khan to stop making allegations of vote-rigging. (Photo:Reuters)

Peace negotiators representing the Pakistani government and Taliban insurgents called on Thursday for higher-level talks between the two sides, following a breakfast meeting hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Talks aimed at ending the Islamists' seven-year insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives resumed on Wednesday, following a two-week suspension after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.

The military retaliated with a series of air strikes that it said killed more than 100 militants, and the Taliban last weekend announced a month-long ceasefire.

But negotiations have so far been conducted through teams of go-betweens, which has hampered their effectiveness according to some observers.

"We have asked the prime minister to replace this committee with an effective forum," said government chief negotiator Irfan Siddiqui after Thursday's meeting.

"We believe that in the next phase, sensitive issues and demands will come up and we need to have a mechanism for direct contacts."

Rahimullah Yusufzai, another government negotiator, told AFP: "We have proposed that those who have authority to make decisions should be part of this committee. There should be representatives from the government and the military in the committee."

On the Taliban side, chief negotiator Maulana Sami-ul-Haq said his team was "satisfied with the round of talks this morning with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif".

"It was decided in the meeting that now the time has come to strengthen the committees and empower them more," he added.

Haq said his team might have to return to the Taliban's base in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan in a day or two to report back to their leadership.

A statement issued by Sharif's office said he was committed to peace.

"As prime minister it is my consitutional, religious, national, moral and human duty to stop the continuation of fire and blood and give peace to the country and citizens," it said.

The peace talks, which began in February, were a key campaign pledge for Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.

But many 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.

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