PESHAWAR: The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has extended the ceasefire until April 10, the group's spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement, adding that the Taliban shura would be meeting after the 10th to decide a future course of action.
The extension comes a day after the interior ministry announced that it had released 19 non-combatant Taliban as a goodwill gesture for bolstering the peace process with the TTP.
In a statement issued to the media, Shahid said the group was awaiting the government's reply on its demands.
Shahid said the Taliban shura has extended the deadline and would sit after April 10 to decide about the future of talks.
He said the Taliban were still awaiting a reply from the government regarding the group’s demands, including the release of non-combatants, but despite the passage of three days above the ceasefire deadline, the government had not yet responded to the TTP.
Shahid said the TTP had ordered its fighters not to carry out any attacks against the government and law-enforcement agencies until further orders.
The page-long statement issued in the Urdu language also said that the TTP wanted to clarify its position before the nation that it was serious about the talks but the response from the government had not encouraging.
It added that despite the fact the government’s peace committee had met the Taliban leadership empty-handed, the Taliban had shown willingness to talk peace.
19 Taliban prisoners freed
The ceasefire extension comes a day after the interior ministry announced that it had released 19 non-combatant Taliban as a goodwill gesture for bolstering the peace process with the TTP.
The interior ministry announced on Thursday that the release of the 19 was the first large batch of people freed since the launch of military operation in South Waziristan in 2009.
A spokesman for the ministry said the prisoners released were non-combatant Taliban belonging to the Mehsud tribe.
The ministry did not release their names. It said three of them had been released on March 21, five on March 25 and 11 on March 28. They were arrested on suspicion or on the basis of intelligence reports.
An official earlier told Dawn that most of the people released had been rounded up during search operations and declared “white” implying that they were innocent. Some of them belong to the Khan Said alias Sajna group which is widely believed to have been in contact with security agencies to cut a peace deal prior to the start of talks with the mainstream TTP.
However, a militant commander told Dawn’s correspondent in Miramshah that those released did not belong to the TTP. They belonged to the Wana-based Maulvi Nazir group which already had a peace agreement with the government, he claimed.
KP governor commends govt efforts for peace
Speaking at a gathering in Peshawar on Friday, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Engineer Shaukatullah said the release of the 19 non-combatant prisoners was a goodwill gesture on part of the government and would help towards conflict resolution.
He said the talks were passing through a crucial phase and efforts were needed to maintain peace.
Shaukatullah added that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was himself supervising the talks’ process which he said was moving forward.
More on this: Govt, TTP agree to extend truce
The Taliban, its fighters most active in the northwest of the country, announced a month-long ceasefire on March 1, but commanders were divided on whether to extend it, saying the government had failed to meet their demands.
They have presented a list of 800 prisoners they want released and have demanded that the Pakistani army withdraw from an unspecified border area near Afghanistan in order to create a “safe zone” for them.
It is not yet clear if the 19 men released recently were on the list of 800 prisoners put forward by the Taliban. Shahid said the Taliban were checking.
Also read: A tricky beginning
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took power last year promising to seek negotiations to end Pakistan's deadly insurgency.
The Taliban are fighting to impose a strict version of Islam across Pakistan and have said they do not recognise the democratically-elected government.
This is the second round of peace talks between the Taliban and the government. A first round in February broke down after a week, when the Taliban bombed a bus full of police then executed 23 hostages from the Frontier Corps.