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Pakistani PM optimistic about peace talks with the Taliban

Feb. 4, 2014 at 12:02 AM   |   Comments

ISLAMABAD, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has offered to hold peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, said he will personally supervise the dialogue.

Expressing optimism about the outcome of the talks between his government and the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Sharif told reporters in Lahore, "I will personally supervise the talks process while Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali will assist me," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported. "It is my utmost desire that the committees formed by the government and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan make headway in the talks."

The peace talk offer came last week even as the TTP has sharply escalated its violence in recent weeks, killing dozens of people in Pakistan, many of them security personnel.

Sharif, who became prime minister after elections last May, has said his government is keen to give peace a last chance in its effort to resolve all issues through dialogue to end terrorism and to save the country from further crises.

In other developments, Dawn newspaper reported two main parties informed the Pakistan National Assembly they had declined the effort of the TTP to include their representatives on its five-member team of negotiators for the talks with the government.

The parties are the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf led by the country's former cricket captain Imran Khan and the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.

A PTI spokesman said the militant group had not consulted his party when naming its panel and the party's core committee at its meeting Monday decided Khan would not be on the team, Dawn reported.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman said his party too would not join the process because it was contrary to a unanimous decision of a multi-party conference convened by him last year, the report said.

Dawn said the TTP expressed regret over the decision of Khan and JUI-F's Mufti Kifayatullah to not join its five-member committee. A spokesman told Dawn on telephone that columnist Orya Maqbool Jan and senior journalist Ansar Abbasi were being considered to replace Imran Khan and Mufti Kifayatullah.

Khan's party, which heads the provincial government in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has strongly supported peace talks with the Taliban.

The TTP's violence has escalated since their leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, was killed in a drone strike last November. Earlier peace talk offers have been spurned.

Sharif has asked the militants, now led by Mullah Fazlullah, to end their violence and come to the talks, adding his government will not allow the country to be held hostage by them.

Sharif's four-member panel for the talks include Sharif's adviser on national affairs, Irfan Siddique, Amir Shah, a retired major and former intelligence official, noted journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai and Rustam Shah Mohmand, former ambassador to Afghanistan.

Prior to the offer of peace talks, there had been rumors the government was considering a major military offensive against the militants.

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