Peace talks have begun between the government and the Pakistani Taliban after delays increasing doubts of success of the talks.
The two sides met for the first time on Thursday for a preliminary meeting likely to chart a “road map” for future discussions, amid deep scepticism over whether dialogue can yield a lasting peace deal. The talks will resume on Friday.
Pakistani Taliban fighters have been battling for years to topple the central government and establish Islamic rule, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes the movement is now ready to find a negotiated settlement and stop the fighting.
In a statement after the meeting, which lasted over three hours, the two sides stressed their commitment to dialogue.
“Both committees concluded that all sides should refrain from any act that could damage the talks,” it said. “Both condemn recent acts of violence in Pakistan, saying such efforts should not sabotage the talks.”
Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator picked by Sharif, sent a text message from the meeting to the Reuters news agency, describing the atmosphere as “cordial and friendly”.
The peace initiative, which Sharif announced just as many were anticipating a major military offensive on Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) strongholds in the North Waziristan tribal area, got off to a chaotic start earlier this week.
The government delegation missed the planned opening meeting on Tuesday saying they were unsure of who was representing the TTP at the talks and what powers they had been given.
Further casting a shadow of doubt on the talks, a suicide bomber on Tuesday killed eight people in a sectarian attack against minority Shia Muslims in the northwestern city of Peshawar. The main TTP spokesman denied they were behind the blast but a commander for the group in Peshawar told the AFP news agency his men were responsible, saying no ceasefire had been announced.
One of the TTP’s negotiating team, Maulana Abdul Aziz, said on Wednesday that there was no chance of peace unless the government agreed to the armed group’s demand for Islamic law to be imposed throughout Pakistan.
The government has insisted that Pakistan’s constitution must remain paramount.