ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN— Pakistan has started talks with the Pakistani Taliban in an effort to end the years of violence that have plagued the country. The announcement has brought mixed reactions from lawmakers and former political leaders.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Thursday in London that talks with the Taliban have begun. In a statement about his talks with British Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg, Sharif said the talks are taking place now, even as authorities in Islamabad boost their counter-terrorism efforts to deal with extremism in the country.
Since Sharif formed his government earlier this year, he says he has been trying to stop the killings, the bloodshed, the loss of life and property. He says the government is playing its part in fulfilling the wishes of the Pakistani nation.
The talks come with the backing of Pakistan’s political parties which have endorsed dialogue as a way to end the violent Taliban insurgency. Earlier this month, suicide bombings left almost 200 people dead.
Sharif did not offer details of the talks beyond saying he hopes the dialogue will remain within the framework of Pakistan's constitution. The Taliban have repeatedly demanded a stricter version of Islamic law than the constitution provides.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, briefing Pakistani lawmakers Thursday, said details of the agenda and the location of government-Taliban talks are being finalized.
Former interior minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao said the negotiation process will not be quick or easy.
He said the talks are a very complicated matter, so expecting a breakthrough anytime soon is unrealistic. This is partly because there are so many elements within the Taliban posing obstacles to the dialogue. He added that everyone hopes that no violence will take place during the talks and set back the process of dialogue.
Retired military Brigadier Shaukat Qadir, who served for a number of years in Pakistan’s tribal northwest, said the Taliban's many offshoots are another concern.
"This is not a monolithic organization. This is a hydra-headed monster. So who do you talk to is one question. You talk to one person, the other fellow blows you up. You talk to the other person, the other fellow blows you up. So it's going to go on like that. The second part is, these are fellows who do not represent the aspirations of any peoples of Pakistan, and they are looking for political space through the use of force. And are you prepared to give them political space? If you are, then how far are you prepared to go?" asked Qadir.
The Taliban also have demanded that the government release the militants it still holds prisoner and that Pakistani military units leave their strongholds in the northwestern tribal regions. They also are calling for an end to all U.S. drone strikes in those areas.
Despite these hurdles, former minister Khan Sherpao said the decision to hold the talks is a positive development in and of itself, because too much blood already has been spilled.