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Pakistan Peace Talks Canceled After Militants Kill 23 Soldiers

Pakistan scrapped peace talks with Taliban insurgents after militants said they killed 23 kidnapped soldiers, jeopardizing the latest effort to end the decade-long insurgency in the country.

Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator in talks with the Taliban that started earlier this month, said it would be “purposeless” to speak with the group after the murders, according to a statement issued by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s office. Siddiqui said he regretted that the talks were not moving in the right direction.

“Pakistan cannot afford such a bloodshed,” Sharif said in a separate statement. “We sincerely initiated the negotiation process as per recommendations of the All Parties Conference, but whenever we reach an encouraging point, the process has been sabotaged.”

Sharif revived peace talks with the group as pressure grows for a military strike after attacks last month killed more than two dozen soldiers, part of violence that caused the deaths of 40,000 Pakistanis since 2001. Failure to reach a deal would threaten Sharif’s efforts to bolster the $225 billion economy as the U.S. reduces troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Umar Khalid Khurasani, leader of Mohmand Agency Taliban, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, Feb. 16 claimed responsibility for killing the 23 soldiers to avenge the deaths of Taliban fighters in government prisons, according to a statement from the group. The soldiers were kidnapped in June 2010 from a check post in the northwestern tribal region, it said. There has been no independent confirmation of the killings.

‘More Severe’

“We would like to make it clear to the government that our reaction could be more severe if the government did not desist from such acts in the future,” Khurasani said in the statement.

Sharif won an election last year after pledging to start peace talks with the loose coalition of militant groups operating along the border with Afghanistan known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan. A series of attacks have thwarted the talks, including one in September that killed 81 Christians in a suicide bomb attack at a Peshawar church.

The TTP emerged after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Influenced by the Afghanistan Taliban, Pakistani factions want Sharif to end his country’s alliance with U.S. forces fighting in neighboring Afghanistan, and introduce their interpretation of Sharia law.

The Pakistani Taliban sees no urgency to reach an agreement with Sharif’s government because the group has been in a state of war for a decade, Maulana Abdul Aziz, a negotiator appointed by the group, said in a Feb. 7 interview.

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