Pakistan peace talks with Taliban delayed amid doubt

Analysts sceptical that an agreement can be made following violence that has claimed 45,000 lives

LAST UPDATED AT 11:00 ON Tue 4 Feb 2014

PEACE talks between the Pakistan government and the Taliban, scheduled to take place today, have been delayed amid widespread scepticism about the chance of their success.

Pakistani government negotiators announced that the meeting would not be held as expected, saying they wanted further clarification from the team nominated by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The Taliban has expressed disappointment at the news.

The call for a meeting in Islamabad, described as "an introductory chat", followed a recent spate of attacks by the Pakistani Taliban last month, in which more than 100 people were killed, many of them soldiers.

In a rare address to the National Assembly last week, Pakistan's prime minister Nawaz Sharif said "terrorism" must be defeated, either by talks or force, and he was giving peace a last chance.

Two veteran journalists, a former ambassador and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service were nominated to speak on behalf of the government.

In an unusual move, the Taliban asked Pakistani politician and ex-cricketer Imran Khan to represent them, reports the BBC. However, his party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, said he would not be taking up the offer. The group named several hardline religious figures, including Maulana Sami ul-Haq, known as the "Father of the Taliban", on its team.

Analysts remain sceptical that a peace deal can be reached, citing the insurgent group's violent history that has claimed more than 45,000 lives in the last decade.

The Taliban's severe ideology and splintered command structure is also seen as an obstacle to a successful agreement.

Some Taliban officials had reportedly circulated ten demands they wanted to pursue in the talks, including banning women from appearing in public in jeans or without head scarves, and the release of all Taliban prisoners – although the group's chief spokesman has denied putting these forward.

Analysts speaking to the Washington Post have warned that the government may not have much leeway to bargain with the Taliban.

Zahid Hussain, an Islamabad-based defence analyst, said Sharif is likely to run into resistance from military leaders if he agreed to any release of prisoners, while the constitution includes provisions guaranteeing the rights of women and minorities. · 

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