Pakistan peace talks with Taliban delayed

Feb. 5, 2014 at 12:18 AM
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ISLAMABAD, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Pakistan's government and the Taliban seemed ready to start their peace talks Wednesday after failing to do so the previous day over procedural questions.

The preliminary round of the much-talked about peace talks between representatives of the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and that of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was to begin Tuesday.

However, the government team declined to meet the other side until it got clarification from the TTP about its team, which was reduced to three members from its original five after two political parties pulled out their nominees.

Rahimullah Yousufzai, a government team member, said with the decision of the two parties against joining the TTP team, the government decided to wait until the TTP had named replacements, Dawn reported.

But after the Taliban announced their remaining three members would conduct the negotiations on its behalf, Yousufzai said: "I personally conveyed to the TTP committee's contact person ... that we are open for a meeting which will be scheduled any time over the next few days."

In a statement to the media, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said: "The TTP repose confidence in the three-member committee that was formed to hold talks with the government's committee after two members refused to join the negotiation process," Pakistan's News International reported.

Yousufzai said the government side, made up of four members, also had questions such as the status of a second nine-member committee of senior Taliban leaders who reportedly would oversee the process of the talks conducted by cleric Maulana Samiul Haq, who will lead the three-member TTP team, Dawn reported.

Another government negotiator was quoted saying there were also doubts if Maulana Haq wields enough influence with the TTP leadership to get any peace agreement implemented.

An irate Maulana Haq, speaking at a news conference later, said he had traveled from the northwest to Islamabad for the talks. However, he said "at the eleventh hour I am told they need some clarifications," Dawn reported. Regardless of who the Taliban nominate for the peace talks, he said, "the government has no option but to meet him."

Maulana also said it was because of his presence on the TTP committee that the government had been able to establish contacts with the Taliban leadership.

The delay in starting the talks helped renew charges from the two sides that the other was not keen on any serious dialogue, the Washington Post reported.

Sharif has expressed optimism about the outcome of the peace talks. He announced the talks last week even though the TTP, which is different from the Afghan Taliban, has sharply stepped up its violence in recent weeks, killing dozens of people in Pakistan, many of them security personnel.

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

Sharif, who became prime minister after elections last May, has said his government is keen to give peace talks a last chance in its effort to resolve all issues through dialogue to end terrorism and to save the country from further crises. He has also said his government will not allow the country to be held hostage by them.

Sharif's four-member panel for the talks include his adviser on national affairs, Irfan Siddique, Amir Shah, a retired major and former intelligence official, noted journalist Rahimullah Yousufzai 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.

The New York Times quoted Pakistani analysts that they expected the negotiations to eventually start but some expressed doubt about whether they would produce any resolution of the conflict.

"Both sides have strong wish lists, but they don't have any methodology to achieve their wishes," Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani academic, told the Times. He said the Taliban had shown shrewdness in picking mainstream religious leaders to represent them at the talks.

"On the one hand, they stay out and hold indirect talks with the government," he said, referring to the Taliban leaders. "On the other, they keep the veto power with themselves and leave the religious leaders open to criticism in case the talks fail."

Other analysts said by stretching the peace talks for as long as possible, the Taliban leaders also believe they would be able to put off any major military offensive against their group.

Other analysts said the powerful military, under their new chief, favors using force against the militants.

"If the talks eventually fail, which is highly likely, Nawaz will be left with no option but to support a military action," Rizvi told the Times. "If he does not, then there will be a serious civil-military crisis."

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