ISLAMABAD: The committees representing the government and the Taliban agreed on Saturday to extend the ceasefire and take measures to speed up the dialogue process.
At a joint meeting, presided over by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and attended by members of the committees of the government and the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the two parties agreed to carry forward the peace process.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, the head of the TTP committee, Maulana Samiul Haq, confirmed that the ceasefire would continue beyond March 31, the date set by them. But he did not say whether the ceasefire was still “temporary” or “permanent”.
He said the interior minister had sought three days to specify the ‘practical steps’ to be taken by the government. According to sources, the allusion was to release of non-combatants belonging to the TTP.
The sources said the minister was likely to convene another meeting of the two committees in a few days and present views of the government and other stakeholders.
Then the Taliban committee would meet the TTP shura and the venue and time for another round of direct talks would be decided.
Maulana Haq said the agenda for the next round of talks would be finalised soon.
He was optimistic about the future of talks and said people should support efforts for restoration of peace. Doubts about the fate of the talks must not be created, he said, adding that there was no reason for despondency.
The sources said the release of hundreds of prisoners, including some high-profile people, and setting up of a “peace zone” to allow free movement of the Taliban were the main demands of the TTP.
They said the government was unlikely to accept the demand for establishment of a peace zone because it would mean allowing creation of a state within state. But they said commencement of the process of releasing prisoners from both sides could move things fast.
A source told Dawn that the next round of talks would take place next week at a new venue. The agenda for this crucial round would be finalised shortly, he added.
He said during the next round, the government committee would hand the TTP a list of about 150 people, including sons of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and slain governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, as well as Ajmal Khan, a former vice chancellor of a university in Peshawar, for their release from the Taliban’s custody.
Earlier, the interior minister called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and discussed with him the strategy for dialogue with the TTP. Steps required to be taken to ensure peace came under discussion.
The sources said the prime minister directed the minister to take all steps to bring peace in the country. He was quoted as saying that efforts should be made to make the dialogue process a success.
AFP adds: Maulana Haq dismissed speculation that peace talks were deadlocked, saying negotiations had made steady progress as he voiced optimism over a possible ceasefire extension. “Inshallah, the ceasefire will hold,” he said.
“The talks are not deadlocked, rather the meeting between the Taliban political council and the government committee marks a big progress,” Maulana Haq said.
Asked if the meeting also focused on the release of prisoners sought by the Taliban, he only said “all matters came up for discussion”.