ISLAMABAD: Extending a Taliban ceasefire will be the top priority in the next round of talks between the militants and the Pakistani government, a negotiator said on Tuesday.
The government opened negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last month in a bid to end their bloody seven-year insurgency.
Meetings so far have been conducted between go-betweens for the two sides, but they are now due to progress to “direct” talks in the coming days.
The government last week formed a new four-member committee for the direct contact, and a venue has been agreed — though not disclosed publicly.
Sayed Yusuf Shah, a negotiator for Taliban, told AFP on Tuesday that the next phase of talks would be held between the government committee and members of the Taliban political council.
“The top priority is to extend the ceasefire because things cannot move further until there exists a peaceful atmosphere,” he said.
A one-month ceasefire announced by the TTP to help the talks proceed is due to expire next week.
The Taliban have asked the government to release from jail 300 people, including women, children and men they say are non-combatants, as part of an ongoing peace process.
The fact that negotiations have so far been conducted through intermediaries has led some observers to question their effectiveness.
The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.
But analysts are sceptical about their chances for success, given the Taliban’s demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.
Many regional deals between the military and the Taliban have failed in the past.
Moreover, attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the Taliban ceasefire.