ISLAMABAD: Peace negotiators of the government and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan continued to blame each other on Wednesday for the delay in commencement of the talks.

On Tuesday, it was the Maulana Samiul Haq-led three-member TTP committee which waited the whole day in the hope of meeting the government team. But on Wednesday, the four-member government committee made futile attempts to contact Maulana Sami to start talks.

Scepticism over the future of talks, meanwhile, reigned in Islamabad.

“We tried to reach Maulana Samiul Haq more than once to schedule our meeting and every time we were told he is busy and will get back,” Irfan Siddiqui, special assistant to the prime minister and coordinator of the government committee, told Dawn.

Mr Siddiqui said once the TTP announced its decision not to replace PTI chief Imran Khan and Mufti Kifayatullah of the JUI-F on its committee, “we immediately conveyed our willingness for the meeting”.

Imran Khan and Mufti Kifayatullah were part of Taliban’s five-member team, but they refused to represent the TTP.

Mr Siddiqui said he even attempted to meet Maulana Sami on Tuesday afternoon, but by then he had left Islamabad.

Maulana Yousuf Shah, who acts as contact person for the TTP, denied any communication between the two sides. “As far as I am concerned nobody from the government side has approached me for the meeting,” Mr Shah said.

But Mr Siddiqui told Dawn that Rahimullah Yousufzai, a member of the government committee, was in touch with members of the TTP committee and expressed the hope that the two sides would meet soon.

While the two committees have yet to meet, Maulana Haq criticised the government. Addressing a rally organised by the Defence of Pakistan Council in connection with the Kashmir Day, the Maulana recalled that the government committee said the other day the TTP negotiators lacked mandate, but “I say neither the prime minister nor his committee is fully authorised to hold peace talks”.

Maulana Samiul Haq said the Taliban were fighting for independence of the country because foreign powers were controlling it.

The Taliban had been demanding enforcement of Sharia in the country and expulsion of foreigners from Pakistan, he said. He derided both democracy and dictatorship, saying the two systems had failed to enforce Sharia.

Irfan Siddiqui, the government’s coordinator, refused to comment on the speech of Maulana Haq. “No reaction. Our sole objective at the moment is to start talks and try our best to bring peace in the country. The committee constituted by the prime minister is waiting for a response from other side and ready to meet them at a time and place of their choice.”

AFP adds: Maulana Aziz, another member of the Taliban’s committee, endorsed Maulana Haq’s comments on enforcement of Sharia. “Without Sharia, the Taliban won’t accept (the talks) even one per cent,” he said.“If some factions accept it, then the others won’t.

“Their [Taliban’s] real agenda is Sharia,” the Lal Masjid cleric said, suggesting that all ‘secular courts’ based on the common law system be abolished.“I don’t think the government will accept this, but they should because war isn’t the way forward.”

On Afghanistan, Maulana Aziz said an endorsement of the security pact with Washington would scupper hopes for regional peace.

“We think these (Afghanistan and Pakistan) are two brotherly countries. Peace in Pakistan means peace in Afghanistan and vice versa,” he said.

If Afghanistan signs the agreement, he warned, “war will continue, and the clash between Muslims and the US will continue”.

“If the agreement goes ahead, the losses they (US) have experienced before, they will experience once again,” he added.