Maulana Sami ul-Haq (R), a Taliban negotiator, reads a
joint statement with Irfan Siddiqui, a government
negotiator during a news conference in Islamabad.
A long-awaited first round of peace talks between
Pakistani Taliban insurgents and the government has begun in
Islamabad after persistent delays and growing doubt over the
chance of their success.
The insurgents have been battling to topple Pakistan's
government and establish strict Islamic rule since 2007, but
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes both sides are now ready
to find a negotiated settlement and stop fighting.
In a statement after the meeting, which lasted over three
hours, the two sides stressed their commitment to dialogue.
"Both committees concluded that all sides should refrain from
any act that could damage the talks," it said. "Both condemn
recent acts of violence in Pakistan, saying such efforts
should not sabotage the talks."
Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator picked by Sharif,
sent a text message from the meeting in an Islamabad
government building, describing the atmosphere as "cordial
Several earlier efforts at striking peace deals with the
militants failed to end the violence for long, only allowing
them to regroup, recruit new fighters and strike back with
Pakistan's neighbours are watching closely, acutely aware
that another failure to find a peaceful solution could
further destabilise the region already nervous ahead of the
expected pull-out of most foreign forces from neighbouring
Thursday's meeting in Islamabad was a preliminary round where
the two sides were expected to agree on a broad roadmap for
But many in Pakistan doubt that talking to an insurgent group
that stages almost daily attacks will succeed.
As the sides prepared for talks this week, a suicide bomber
killed eight people near a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in the city
of Peshawar. The Taliban have tried to distance themselves
from the attack but the bombing reinforced doubts about the
Taliban bosses watched the progress of the talks in Islamabad
from their mountainous hideouts on the Afghan border, with
their interests represented by three Taliban-friendly public
figures hand-picked by the insurgents.
"The progress of the talks will be submitted to the prime
minister," said a government official, who declined to be
identified, as he was not authorised to comment on the talks.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Pakistani Tehreek-e-Taliban,
are a deeply fragmented umbrella group consisting of dozens
of entities, so striking a deal with one of them would not
necessarily stop the violence.
On Tuesday, the first attempt at talking got off to a
shambolic start after government negotiators failed to turn
up at an agreed time, angering the insurgents'
"The unavoidable question for the government though: what are
talks meant to achieve if violence continues even in the
immediate run-up to the first real, known attempt at talks?"
the respected Dawn daily wrote in an editorial.
Militants have stepped up attacks against security forces
since the beginning of the year, prompting the army to send
fighter jets to bomb their strongholds in the ethnic Pashtun
region of North Waziristan, along the Afghan border, and
triggering talk that a major ground offensive was in the