First round of direct talks between govt, TTP concludes

Updated March 26, 2014

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Professor Ibrahim (L) and Maulana Samiul Haq (R). — File photo
Professor Ibrahim (L) and Maulana Samiul Haq (R). — File photo

PESHAWAR: The first round of direct peace talks between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership concluded on Wednesday, with both the sides reportedly reaching an agreement on several issues, DawnNews reported.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, however, did not share any details of the landmark talks, saying only that once the negotiators returned, it would be up to the government to make statements to media.

The negotiations are part of a push by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban that would end a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.

Sources told DawnNews that the both parties sought guarantees from each other, during the talks, which were held at Biland Khel area of Shawa Tehsil on the border of Orakzai and North Waziristan tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.

The TTP also responded positively to the demands of indefinite ceasefire and the release of non-combatant prisoners put forward by the government’s committee, they added.

During the negotiations, the TTP representatives asked members of the government committee if they had been delegated with decision-making powers, to which the committee members replied in the affirmative.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid also said that the both sides have agreed in extending the ceasefire while there was also a consensus among them on the exchange of non-combatants prisoners.

In a statement issued after the first round of direct talks, he said that the day-long talks were held in conducive environment and both sides have shown their confidence in the development.

The TTP spokesman further said that regular patrolling of the security forces in the area has to be limited giving way to free movement of ‘tribesmen.’

The government’s mediating team is expected to return from North Waziristan later tonight.

Earlier, Professor Ibrahim Khan of Jamaat-i-Islami told reporters that the face-to-face discussions were aimed at ending years-long violence.

The Pakistani team, headed by government official Habibullah Khan Khattak, flew on Wednesday morning by helicopter to the location for the talks, described as a ''peace zone.''

Sources had also said that a five-member TTP Shura, including Qari Shakeel, Azam Tariq, Maulvi Zakir, Qari Bashir and another member, would hold talks with the government team.

The main challenges of negotiating a peace settlement are the many groups and factions behind the violence, with many operating outside the Taliban control, including both local and foreign al Qaeda-linked militant outfits.

The direct talks were originally to take place on Tuesday, but bad weather prevented the government helicopter from traveling to the northwest.

The talks, promoted by Sharif, have proceeded in fits and starts since he took office last year. So far, the two sides held only indirect talks, with the Taliban represented by two clerics, Khan, the professor, and Maulana Samiul Haq.

Haq was also on board the helicopter from Islamabad on Wednesday, traveling with Khattak in an effort to facilitate the meeting.

The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share similar ideology but the Pakistani Taliban have a separate leadership structure and focus their efforts on attacking the Pakistani government and trying to impose their harsh form of Islam in the country.

Earlier on Tuesday, a proposed meeting between the government's representatives and the TTP Shura was deferred on account of bad weather conditions.

– Zahir Shah Sherazi contributed to the reporting