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In first attempt, Taliban dialogue fails to take off

05 February, 2014

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ISLAMABAD: The planned peace talks with Taliban insurgents stumbled as they began on Tuesday, with government negotiators missing a preliminary meeting citing doubts over the militants' team.

The faltering start will fuel scepticism about whether negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can achieve a meaningful and lasting peace accord. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif caused surprise last week by announcing a team to begin dialogue with the TTP, which has been waging a violent insurgency since 2007. Many observers had been anticipating a military offensive against TTP strongholds in the tribal areas, following a bloody start to the year.

Teams representing the Taliban and government had been due to gather in Islamabad at 2pm on Tuesday to chart a "roadmap" for talks. But the government delegation did not show up. One of its members, senior journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai, said they wanted to clarify who was on the Taliban team and what powers they had. The TTP initially named five negotiators but Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan declined to take part and another was pulled out by his political party.

"We told them we are ready to meet them after we get an explanation about one issue, that their committee will consist of three members," Yusufzai told AFP. "We also seek explanations on other issues, like how powerful this committee is." The head of the Taliban team, Maulana Samiul Haq, accused the government of not taking the talks seriously. "Today it has been exposed how serious the government is about talks," Haq told AFP. "They are making a joke of talks and joking with the nation. On one side they are saying they are talking to the Taliban and on the other side they are making joke of these talks."

The TTP's main spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP that Haq and his two colleagues had their blessing. "The three-member committee is final now and we have our full confidence in it to hold talks," he said. Talking to media persons Maulana Samiul Haq said that the government-constituted committee was powerless and certain powerful forces are bent on sabotaging the peace process with the TTP. He said that the TTP was serious about holding talks with the government, while the government, through its behaviour, has proved that it is powerless. Haq lashed out at the government's dialogue committee and accused it of demonstrating non-serious attitude. He feared a military operation is looming.

"They are showing non-seriousness and disassociation from the day one. The government is not realising the gravity of the issue, but still we are ready to sit together and facilitate the talks, our doors are open," said Haq. He complained about lack of coordination from the government team and appealed the to Taliban to remain silent and refrain from terrorist activities.

"We are a bridge between the government and the Taliban but the rulers are not realising it. They should be thankful to us for our support and coordination, we are a blessing for them," he added. Two other members of the committee – Professor Ibrahim and Maulana Abdul Aziz – accompanied him. Haq said it was the responsibility of the government to hold the peace talks and the government committee should have come first. "The government should appreciate that we have come in the middle. It is a gift from God," Haq remarked.

The JUI-S chief also lashed out at the US, saying that its pressure on the government is causing hindrance in the peace negotiations. He held superpowers responsible for instability in Pakistan. PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) chief Fazlur Rehman on Monday declined role in talks with the Taliban. Imran Khan will not be part of the five-member arbitration committee announced by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), PTI core committee decided on Monday. Meanwhile, minutes after Imran Khan's refusal to be part of Taliban's committee, JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman also withdrew his party member Mufti Kifayatullah from the committee.

End.

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