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Taleban denies Pakistan talks deadlocked Negotiation have made steady progress

ISLAMABAD, March 30, (AFP): A negotiator for the Pakistani Taleban on Saturday dismissed speculation that peace talks with the government were deadlocked, saying negotiations had made steady progress as he voiced optimism over a possible ceasefire extension. The government began negotiations with the Tehreek-e- Taleban Pakistan (TTP) through intermediaries last month to try to end the Islamists’ bloody seven-year insurgency.

On Wednesday a four-member government committee comprising three civil servants and a former diplomat held their first meeting with members of the TTP’s political council in North Waziristan tribal district. Few details emerged from Wednesday’s talks but extending a month-long Taleban ceasefire — declared to help the peace process but due to expire next week — was seen as a top priority. “Inshallah (God willing), the ceasefire will hold,” Samiul- Haq, a member of the Taleban negotiating committee which attended Wednesday’s session, told reporters following a meeting with government negotiators. Both sides met in Islamabad for a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan amid growing speculation that the negotiations had ended in a deadlock. “The talks are not deadlocked, rather the meeting between the Taleban political council and the government committee marks a big progress,” Haq said.

Asked if the meeting also focussed on the release of prisoners sought by the Taliban, he only said “all matters came up for discussion”. The TTP has asked the government to release around 300 people including women and children it says are being held despite being “non-combatants”. There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants, including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed in return. 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 some analysts have voiced scepticism about their chances for success, given the Taliban’s demands for nation wide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones. “It all looks sugar coated and it seems the problems still persist,” Hasan Askari, a leading security and political analyst, told AFP.

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