ISLAMABAD: Negotiators for Pakistan’s government and the Taliban called for a ceasefire after meeting on Thursday 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 that lasted more than three hours to chart a “roadmap” for future discussions, amid deep skepticism over whether dialogue can yield a lasting peace deal.
Reading from a joint statement following the talks, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the Taliban’s chief negotiator, said his side agreed with a government demand that “there should be no activity by either side which can potentially harm the peace efforts.”
Irfan Siddiqui, his government counterpart, hailed the meet–ing—the first ever formal dialogue between the two sides—saying that the Taliban committee had “responded to us beyond our expectations.”
The breakthrough came after an abortive start to the talks Tuesday, which were called off when the government cited doubts over the Taliban nego–tiating team.
“We are really happy that the Taliban committee has res–ponded to us beyond our ex–pectations and they have heard our reservations and told us their reservations with an open heart,” Siddiqui told reporters on Thursday evening.
“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.
Haq said his team 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.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has killed thousands of people in gun and bomb attacks across the nuclear-armed state since it launched its campaign in 2007.