Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif urges time for Taliban talks

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Media captionNawaz Sharif: "Our economy has suffered very badly at the hands of terrorism"

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he is still hopeful that talks with the Taliban can succeed, despite the militants ending a ceasefire.

Mr Sharif told BBC Urdu that talks offered the "best option" of ending the country's long conflict.

Peace moves with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) were one of his key campaign pledges in last year's elections.

The talks have made little headway since February. All previous attempts to negotiate with the TTP have failed.

Thousands have been killed since militants began waging an insurgency inside Pakistan a decade ago.

After taking office last May, Mr Sharif came under pressure to bring soaring violence under control.

Speaking to BBC Urdu in a rare interview in London, the prime minister said he believed his talks strategy could "bring peace without any further bloodshed".

"If we can make this process somehow successful, I think it will be the best option."

Correspondents say some in Pakistan are worried the talks will allow the militants time to gain strength and regroup. And observers doubt the militants are willing to respect the constitution.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Negotiators for the TTP (pictured) have been in talks with the government since earlier this year
Image copyright AP
Image caption The Pakistani Taliban want Sharia law enforced across the country

From its bases mainly in the north-west, the TTP is committed to enforcing its austere version of Islamic law or Sharia across all of Pakistan.

But Mr Sharif said the militants had to respect the constitution and lay down their arms.

"This of course is the number one condition that has to be met.

"We are making progress on these issues. Let us see if the next round of meetings are successful and we can find a way to make headway in the talks we are holding with each other."

Few observers think it likely the militants will accede to the government's demands. And correspondents say the powerful army is watching the talks anxiously, reluctant to give up hard-won gains to the militants.

Two rounds of negotiations have already been held. The prime minister said it would take two or three more meetings for the sides to know "how sincere we are with each other and how the talks are progressing".

He added that security had improved while the talks have been under way.

Violence has fallen from the levels seen last year, but since the brief ceasefire ended in mid-April, there have been more attacks in Pakistani cities. Air strikes on militant strongholds in the country's tribal regions have resumed.

The Taliban say they remain committed to peace talks, but accuse the government of being silent about their demands - which include the release of prisoners.

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