Pakistan peace talks stalled by soldier deaths
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani government committee tasked with negotiating with the local Taliban Monday cancelled a scheduled round of talks after militants claimed to have killed 23 soldiers in their captivity, a government official said, throwing peace efforts into crisis.
There was no point meeting the Pakistani Taliban’s representatives after the deaths were announced, said Irfan Sadiqui, a member of the government’s four-man committee. Sadiqui is also an adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has advocated negotiations over military action as a way to end the years of bloodshed in the country’s northwest.
“We have to say with regret that things are not moving in the right direction,” Sadiqui said.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban announced late Sunday that they had killed the soldiers, who they said had been kidnapped in 2010. It was not immediately clear whether the faction acted with the approval of the central command. The faction said the deaths were in revenge for government forces killing their members.
There was no independent way to verify the claim. The Associated Press reported in June 2010 about claims by militants to have kidnapped 35 Frontier Corps troops in the Mohmand Agency tribal region. It was not immediately clear whether this was the same group of soldiers and if so, why the numbers were different.
Sharif condemned the killings and said they would have a negative effect on the negotiations. He termed the killings a heinous crime.
“Pakistan can’t afford such bloodshed anymore,” he said.
The Pakistani Taliban have been waging a bloody campaign for years of bombings and attacks against the state in a bid to overthrow the government and enforce their own harsh brand of Islamic law.
The government’s committee was scheduled to meet a committee tasked with negotiating for the militants at a seminary in the northwest where Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Omar and his other top commanders are said to have studied.
As part of the negotiations, a member of the Taliban negotiating team travelled to the militant stronghold of North Waziristan to meet with the militant leaders and then convey their demands to the government.
The coordinator for the Taliban’s negotiating team said at a press conference Monday that he regretted the government’s decision to cancel the meeting: “We still believe that the contacts should be strengthened to avoid bloodshed.”
Critics of the peace process say the militants have broken several such agreements in the past and simply used them to strengthen their organization and regroup.
Ongoing attacks even as the peace process started have cast doubt over how far these negotiations will go.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a car bombing last week that killed 13 police officers in the southern port city of Karachi.