ISLAMABAD: Negotiators representing Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said Wednesday there was no chance of peace in Pakistan until the government embraces sharia law and US-led forces withdraw completely from Afghanistan.
The tough conditions appear to deal a blow to hopes that talks with the government could end the TTP insurgency that has rocked the country since 2007. Initial peace talks failed to get under way Tuesday when the government delegation refused to meet the militants’ negotiators, citing confusion about the make-up of their team. The two sides are expected to try to meet again today (Thursday) or tomorrow, though no definite arrangements have yet been made.
Washington and Kabul have been deadlocked over a pact known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow some US troops to stay on in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is refusing to sign it at present. Its supporters say the pact is crucial to Afghanistan’s stability after the bulk of NATO forces pull out. But Maulana Samiul Haq, the head of the TTP’s three-man talks team, told AFP there could be “no peace” in the region while there were still US troops across the border.
His comments were echoed by his fellow TTP negotiator Maulana Abdul Aziz, who also said the TTP’s long-held commitment to impose sharia law across Pakistan was not open to debate. “Without sharia law, the Taliban won’t accept (the talks) even one percent,” he told AFP. “If some factions accept it, then the others won’t accept it.” The government has insisted that the constitution must remain paramount. Given the gulf between the two sides, there has been scepticism about what the talks could achieve. Local peace deals with the militants in the past have quickly fallen apart.
“Their real agenda is sharia,” Aziz said, suggesting that all Pakistan’s secular courts based on the common law system be abolished. “I don’t think the government will accept this but they should, because war isn’t the way forward.” Government efforts to start peace talks last year came to an abrupt halt in November with the killing of TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone strike. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s announcement last week that he wanted to give peace talks another try caught many observers by surprise. The start of the year has seen a surge in militant violence, with more than 110 people killed, and many had expected the military to launch an offensive against TTP strongholds in the tribal areas.
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