Taliban and Pakistan government hold first round of peace talks in Islamabad

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 3:21am

Negotiators for Pakistan's government and the Taliban met for more than three hours yesterday in the first round of talks aimed at ending the militants' bloody seven-year insurgency.

The two sides gathered in Islamabad for a preliminary meeting likely to chart a "roadmap" for future discussions, amid deep scepticism over whether dialogue can yield a lasting peace deal.

Irfan Siddiqui, the government's chief negotiator hailed the meeting after it had finished, saying the Taliban committee had "responded to us beyond our expectations".

The breakthrough came after an abortive start to the talks on Tuesday, which were called off when the government cited doubts over the Taliban negotiating team.

"We are really happy that the Taliban committee has responded to us beyond our expectations and they have heard our reservations and told us their reservations with an open heart," Siddiqui said yesterday.

"We share the common goal of making this country peaceful in accordance with Islamic teaching. And I thank the Taliban committee for meeting us," Siddiqui added.

Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the Taliban's chief negotiator, said his side would hold discussions with the Taliban leadership and a second round of talks would be held after they had responded.

Underlining the fragile security situation, a suicide bomber on Tuesday killed eight people in a sectarian attack against minority Shiite Muslims in the northwestern city of Peshawar, just hours after the abortive start to the talks. The main TTP spokesman denied they were behind the blast but a commander for the group in Peshawar said his men were responsible, saying no ceasefire had been announced.