Pakistan peace talks with Taliban are delayed

While the talks are going on, many hope for a respite from attacks, as Aleem Maqbool reports

Pakistani government representatives have failed to meet Taliban negotiators in Islamabad as preliminary peace efforts got off to a chaotic start.

The government side said before talks began they wanted clarification from the team named by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Furious TTP negotiators expressed disappointment at the news.

The two sides had been due to start charting a "roadmap" for talks.

The militants have been waging an insurgency inside Pakistan since 2007.

Analysis

There is more scepticism than hope as the government and the Pakistani Taliban prepare to hold preliminary peace talks. There are three reasons for this.

First is the reluctance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to confront the Taliban militarily despite a public wave of anger against them. Second, few analysts believe the Taliban would submit to the government's writ in areas under their control, given their professed opposition to democracy and the Pakistani constitution.

There are also questions over the composition of the two teams; the Taliban have refrained from naming a committee from within their own ranks, and have instead named religious figures who want Sharia (Islamic law) in the country. The government representatives are also at one remove from the administration.

Both seem to be looking for short-term gains. For the government, it seems to be a way of reducing Taliban attacks in the country. For the Taliban, the motive may well be to secure the release of detained fighters and to gain time until Nato troops leave Afghanistan.

The government's lead negotiator, Irfan Siddiqui, made clear he still expected talks to go ahead, but sought more information on the make-up of the Taliban team and how much authority it had to negotiate.

"We want the talks to be meaningful... We can start as soon as we know this," he told reporters.

But many observers were puzzled by the government side's approach. The Taliban swiftly made clear there were to be no additions to their team and urged the government side to begin talks and see for themselves whether their team had a mandate.

Lead Taliban negotiator Sami ul-Haq said: "It was decided yesterday that we'll sit today and work out a strategy by mutual consent about how and where to start. So it is disappointing. They [the government team] haven't taken a single step [towards talks] yet."

He and his colleagues left Islamabad later in the day.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced the talks initiative last week, following a spate of attacks.

Sharia

In January more than 100 people, including many soldiers, died in Taliban attacks across the country. Thousands have been killed in recent years.

Irfan Siddiqui (file image) Negotiator Irfan Siddiqui is also an adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

As a result, many analysts had been expecting a large-scale military offensive against TTP strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The BBC's Aleem Maqbool in Islamabad says some in Pakistan worry that the talks will only allow the militants time to gain strength. Previous peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban have all failed.

As well as Mr Siddiqui, Mr Sharif's team comprises another veteran journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah.

Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the "Father of the Taliban", is joined by the chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and religious party leader Prof Ibrahim Khan.

The militants want Sharia (Islamic law) to be imposed throughout Pakistan and prisoners to be freed.

Who are the Pakistani Taliban?

  • With its roots in the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban movement came to the fore in 2007, unleashing a wave of violence
  • Its leaders have traditionally been based in Pakistan's tribal areas but it is really a loose affiliation of militant groups, some based in areas like Punjab and even Karachi
  • The various Taliban groups have different attitudes to talks with the government. Some analysts say this has led to divisions in the movement
  • Collectively they are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis and have also co-ordinated assaults on numerous security targets
  • Two former TTP leaders, Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud, as well as many senior commanders have been killed in US drone strikes
  • It is unclear if current leader Maulana Fazlullah, who comes from outside the tribal belt, is even in Pakistan, but he has a reputation for ruthlessness

Government negotiator Rahimullah Yusufzai had questioned whether those picked to negotiate for the Taliban would really represent them.

He added: "We don't have any illusions; we know it's going to be very challenging."

Former cricketer Imran Khan, a strong supporter of negotiating with the insurgents, was also asked to be part of the TTP team but declined. His Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said he was not needed at the talks as another party figure, Rustam Shah Mohmand, is already on the government team.

The JUI party also turned down a fifth seat on the Taliban team.

Prime Minister Sharif, who was elected last May, has been under mounting pressure to bring the violence under control, with many accusing his government in recent months of lacking a strategy to deal with the Pakistan Taliban peace talks delaymilitants.

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