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Govt links resumption of talks with ceasefire

19 February, 2014

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ISLAMABAD: The government mediators Tuesday demanded a ceasefire from the Taliban before they resume peace talks as another two soldiers were killed in separate attacks.

A faction of the insurgent group announced on Sunday they had killed 23 kidnapped soldiers, prompting condemnation from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the cancellation of scheduled peace talks on Monday. Following a meeting on Tuesday in Islamabad, the government negotiators briefed the prime minister and said they had received a "discouraging response" since talks were announced on January 29.

"The prime minister was told that the committee was unable to carry forward the dialogue process in the absence of an announcement by the Taliban ceasing violent activities and then implementing the decision," a statement said. Militants killed an army major near Peshawar on Tuesday, and a soldier died in a separate border post attack overnight in lawless South Waziristan, security officials said.

Separately, gunman on a motorcycle shot and wounded a driver who was carrying two staff members of French aid agency ACTED in a car in garrison town of Kohat, police said. Excluding the kidnapped soldiers, some 60 people have died in militant violence since Prime Minister Nawaz announced the peace talks on January 29. A senior Taliban negotiator told AFP the militant group was working towards a ceasefire which might have been agreed at Monday's cancelled meeting.

"The issue was on top of Monday's meeting between the two committees, which was called off by government negotiators," Professor Muhammad Ibrahim said. "There was a strong possibility that we could have agreed on a ceasefire had the meeting taken place," Ibrahim added. He said he had spoken to senior Taliban commander Azam Tariq and we "are making efforts for resumption of the stalled talks". Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP that "we are in contact with all Taliban groups on the issue of ceasefire and hope to reach a decision pretty soon".

He said implementing a ceasefire would "not be very difficult". Some observers have raised doubts about the ability of the central Taliban command to control all factions, including some opposed to negotiations. The Taliban's demands include the nationwide imposition of sharia, an end to US drone strikes and the withdrawal of the army from northwestern tribal regions – conditions the government and army are unlikely to be able to meet.

The controversial peace talks with Taliban broke down on Monday following execution of 23 FC soldiers captured from Shongari checkpost in 2010 by a terrorist outfit calling itself Mohmand Agency Taliban – in a devastating blow to the PML-N government's 'last-ditch' efforts to bring peace to the terror-stricken nation through negotiations. The four-member government negotiating committee immediately cancelled a scheduled visit to Akora Khattak for a meeting with the Taliban committee. "It is a unanimous decision. I myself phoned Yousaf Shah and informed him that we are not coming," adviser to prime minister and coordinator of government committee Irfan Siddiqui told journalists. "We do not want to play meetings," he said, and added that the martyrdom of FC personnel is a highly condemnable act that cannot be tolerated.

"We regret to say that things are not moving in the right direction. Peace talks are purposeless after the sad and condemnable murders," Siddiqui said. A meeting will be convened on Tuesday (today) to discuss the future course of action, he added. Another member of the committee, Rahimullah Yousufzai, said it was necessary for them to discuss the killings of FC soldiers with the government before any further interaction with the TTP negotiators. He said it was not yet confirmed whether TTP had ordered the killings or someone else did it just to spoil the peace process.

End.

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