Negotiator 'confident' over Pakistan Taliban ceasefire
Maulana Sami ul Haq -- a negotiator for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in peace talks with the Pakistan government -- talks to the media after a meeting of the negotiation committee in Islamabad, on March 22, 2014 - by Farooq Naeem
The government began negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) through intermediaries last month to try to end the Islamists' bloody seven-year insurgency.
On Wednesday a four-member government committee comprising three civil servants and a former diplomat held their first meeting with members of the TTP's political council in North Waziristan tribal district.
Few details have emerged from Wednesday's talks but extending a Taliban ceasefire -- declared to help the peace process but due to expire next week -- was seen as a top priority.
Professor Muhammad Ibrahim, a member of the Taliban's original negotiating committee who attended Wednesday's session said he was hopeful this would be achieved.
"We are confident that the ceasefire will be extended," he told AFP.
"Our efforts will be to ensure that there is a permanent ceasefire."
Ibrahim said the two sides were trying to build confidence in one another and would meet for more talks in "the next few days".
- 'Dancing around the issues' -
The TTP has also asked the government to release around 300 people including women and children it says are being held despite being "non-combatants".
There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants, including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed in return.
The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
But some analysts have voiced scepticism about their chances for success, given the Taliban's demands for nation wide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
Hasan Askari, a leading security and political analyst, said that even after stepping up talks to the "direct" level, the discussions were still stuck on procedural matters and "dancing around the critical issues".
Regional deals struck in the past between the military and the Taliban have failed and some have accused the militants of using them as a means to regroup and rearm.
Askari said he expected the TTP to extend their ceasefire to avoid the army launching a ground offensive against its strongholds in North Waziristan -- an operation many had been predicting earlier in the year.
"But the question is how will they address the key issue -- peace on what terms, and secondly will the Taliban agree to give up violent activities and work within the framework of constitution?" Askari said.
"This they are not likely to accept because it will mean losing their identity, and they will have to work as a political party."
Attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the Taliban ceasefire, further undermining the process.
Two separate bomb attacks on March 14 killed 19 people, while a major gun and suicide bomb attack on an Islamabad court complex left 11 dead just two days after the TTP announced its ceasefire.
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