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Pakistan, Taliban Talks Enter Decisive Stage


FILE- Maulana Sami ul-Haq (R), one of the Taliban negotiators, and Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator, discuss a joint statement before a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 6, 2014.

FILE- Maulana Sami ul-Haq (R), one of the Taliban negotiators, and Irfan Siddiqui, a government negotiator, discuss a joint statement before a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Feb. 6, 2014.

Despite ongoing attacks, Pakistan government representatives met Wednesday with Taliban representatives to try to restart stalled peace talks aimed at ending the country's bloody insurgency.

Just hours after a roadside bomb attack on a military convoy killed six soldiers, Pakistani government and Taliban representatives said the high-stakes peace talks between them had entered a decisive stage.

Government representative Irfan Siddiqui said the time had come for negotiators on both sides to make major decisions on how to move the peace process forward.

SIddiqui said the next phase of the talks will focus on naming negotiators empowered to do so.

He said the first stage was to establish contact and coordinate, and now talks have entered a decisive stage. He said whether Maulana (Sami-ul Haq) is able to decide on major issues or whether the government negotiators are in a position to do so is the issue in the next phase of talks.

Maulana Sami-ul Haq, named by the Taliban to represent them in the talks, said the militants want a revised government negotiating team to include Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other top officials.

But political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi says it is unlikely top political or military leaders will sit down directly with the militants.

“The reason why the Taliban are giving these kinds of proposals is first to demonstrate their importance, and secondly to make sure that there is no military action against them in the next three, four months," he said. "But my own feeling is that the military will not speak to them directly.”

Speaking outside Sami-ul Haq’s home in the northwest tribal area, government envoy Siddiqui called for the Taliban to condemn recent militant attacks that have left more than 30 soldiers dead.

A security official said a bomb attack early Wednesday in the Hangu district of the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa killed six soldiers.

Two days earlier, suicide bombers attacked a courthouse in downtown Islamabad, leaving 11 people dead.

An extremist faction known as Ahrar-ul Hind claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban, a loose alliance of Islamist militants operating around Pakistan, distanced itself from the courthouse assault. But the violence has led many to question how much control the Taliban has over its various factions.

After Pakistan's military pounded Taliban hideouts in retaliation for the killing of 23 soldiers, the Taliban declared a cease-fire to encourage the peace dialogue.

Ayaz Gul contributed to this report.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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