PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — The Pakistani government pushed forward with Taliban peace negotiations on Wednesday, despite recent militant attacks that include a roadside bomb in the country's northwest that killed six soldiers.
Negotiators representing both the government and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, as the Pakistani Taliban is formally called, met for the first time in three weeks to find a way to end an insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives. The government suspended the talks after a faction of the Pakistani Taliban killed 23 troops it had been holding captive.
The peace talks promoted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have proceeded in fits and starts since Sharif took office last year. In January both sides named negotiators who met twice before the talks were suspended. The process appeared to gain new life over the weekend when the Pakistani Taliban declared a one-month ceasefire and the government responded by saying it would halt airstrikes against militant hideouts in the tribal areas.
The future of the negotiating process was then called into question Monday when militants killed 11 people in an attack on a judicial compound in the heart of the city. The killing of eight troops this week, including six just hours before the negotiators met Wednesday, have also strained the process.
Rahimullah Yousafzai, one of the negotiators representing the Pakistani government, told The Associated Press that the negotiators had decided to push forward with the process because the Pakistani Taliban had said they were not responsible for the recent attacks.
"In this situation, we opted to continue the talks, and we hope the Taliban will condemn these attacks and trace those who are behind it," Yousafzai said.
Negotiators representing the government and the Taliban met Wednesday at a seminary run by Maulana Samiul Haq, one of the Taliban's negotiators, in the northwestern city of Akora Khattak. Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar and several of his top commanders are said to have studied at the seminary.
Haq told reporters after the meeting that the Taliban committee was seeking a meeting with the prime minister. He praised the Taliban for announcing the ceasefire and said he had asked the militants to track down whoever was responsible for the recent violence.
The head of the committee representing the government, Irfan Sadiqui, said they had discussed various options for how the negotiating process could continue. He refused to share any details.
One of the challenges of negotiating a peace settlement, say analysts, is that there are many groups and factions behind the violence in the northwest, with many operating outside the Pakistani Taliban's control.
The security forces have been the target of many recent attacks. On Wednesday, six troops were killed and eight wounded when a roadside bomb exploded next to a passing convoy in the country's northwest near the Afghan border, said local government official, Javedullah Khan in the district of Hangu, where the incident took place. On Monday a bombing killed two soldiers in the Khyber tribal region.
Both local and foreign al-Qaida-linked militant outfits operate in Pakistani tribal areas that border Afghanistan to the west. The Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share similar ideology but the Pakistani Taliban has a separate leadership structure and focuses its efforts on attacking the Pakistani government and trying to impose its harsh form of Islam in the country.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.