The first formal meeting between the Pakistan government and a Taliban-nominated team has begun in an undisclosed location, local media say. They are due to start charting a “roadmap” for peace talks. The talks were delayed earlier in the week after the government side asked for clarification about the composition of the Pakistan Taliban team. Militants from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been waging an insurgency inside Pakistan since 2007.
The talks initiative was announced last week by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, following a spate of attacks. More than 100 people, including soldiers, died in Taliban attacks across the country in January. Thousands have been killed since the TTP came to the fore in 2007. The chief negotiator for the government side, Irfan Siddiqui, said the government committee would attend the talks with “an open mind”, the Pakistan Tribune reports. Joining Mr Siddiqui on the government team is veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah.
The three-man TTP team comprises Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the “Father of the Taliban”, the chief cleric of Islamabad’s Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz and the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ibrahim Khan. Since taking office last May, Prime Minister Sharif has come under mounting pressure to bring the violence under control, with many accusing his government of lacking a strategy to deal with the militants, correspondents say. He recently said he wanted to end the insurgency by peaceful means, but has indicated stronger military action if talks fail.
Correspondents say some in Pakistan are worried the talks will only allow the militants time to gain strength and regroup. Previous attempts to engage Pakistan Taliban in dialogue have all failed.