Pakistan Makes Little Progress in First Direct Taliban Talks

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government and Taliban militants failed to agree on extending a cease-fire in the first-ever direct negotiations between the two sides to end a decade-long insurgency.

“You can’t get everything in one sitting -- things take time,” Professor Mohammad Ibrahim, a Taliban-appointed negotiator who attended yesterday’s meeting in an undisclosed tribal area, said by phone. “We’re hopeful it will be extended soon and converted into a permanent peace,” he said, referring to a monthlong cease-fire due to expire on March 31.

Sharif has defied pressure to mount a military operation against Taliban fighters blamed for the deaths of over 40,000 people as he seeks lasting peace to underpin growth in South Asia’s second-biggest economy. Negotiations between government officials and the Taliban’s top leadership have been delayed for weeks as both sides debated conditions for the talks.

“These people are begging the Taliban for peace,” Kamran Bokhari, a vice president at Austin, Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor, said by phone from Canada yesterday, referring to Sharif’s administration. “If they are believing that the process will lead to some sort of peace settlement, then we are really in dire straits.”

Loose Alliance

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations that oppose Pakistan’s security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law.

Prior to yesterday’s meeting, committees formed by the government and the TTP held several rounds of talks that were suspended on Feb. 18 after a Taliban faction killed 23 kidnapped soldiers. The Taliban announced the cease-fire on March 1, meeting a government condition to resume the talks.

The meeting yesterday was a “necessary step” for building confidence, Ibrahim said. The two sides agreed to meet again, he said, without disclosing the exact location for talks.

Shahidullah Shahid, the Taliban’s spokesman was not available for comments. Pervaiz Rashid, a government spokesman, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone.

Militants opposed to talks have threatened to disrupt the peace process. A newly formed splinter group called Ahrar-ul-Hind claimed responsibility for the March 3 attack in Islamabad that killed 11 people, making it the deadliest in the capital in more than five years.

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