Pakistani Taliban announces one-month cease-fire

The Pakistani Taliban spokesman announces a one-month ceasefire aimed at reviving failed peace talks as speculation mounts that the military might launch an offensive against the insurgents. (Reuters)
March 1

— The Pakistani Taliban announced Saturday that the group will observe a one-month cease-fire as part of efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the government, injecting new life into a foundering peace process.

Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement e-mailed to reporters that the top leadership of the militant group has instructed all of its units to comply with the cease-fire.

“Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has initiated talks with the government with sincerity and for good purpose,” Shahid said, referring to the group by its formal name.

The leader of the government’s negotiating team, Irfan Sadiqui, praised the cease-fire announcement on Pakistan’s Geo Television, saying the government will review any written document from the Taliban about it.

“Today, we are seeing a big breakthrough,” Sadiqui said.

In recent weeks, Pakistani jets and helicopters have been striking militant hideouts in the northwest. Previous efforts at negotiations broke down when a militant faction announced it had killed 23 Pakistani troops.

The Pakistani Taliban has been trying for years to overthrow the government and establish its own hard-line form of Islam across Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people have died in militant attacks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has long promoted negotiations over military operations as a way to end the ongoing crisis. His efforts gained traction this year when both sides announced that negotiating teams had held initial meetings. But negotiations fell apart after the deaths of the 23 Pakistani troops, and Sharif has been under pressure to retaliate for any Taliban violence.

Critics of the peace process say militants have used previous negotiations to simply regroup. They also question whether there is room to negotiate with militants who do not recognize the Pakistani constitution. In the past the militants have called for the removal of all military forces in the tribal areas as well as an end to U.S. drone strikes.

A temporary cease-fire could be difficult to ensure. The Pakistani Taliban is not a unified organization, and some of the factions are not believed to support peace talks. Violence earlier Saturday showed how difficult it could be to enforce a cease-fire, let alone forge a peace agreement.

Two bombs exploded minutes apart in northwestern Pakistan, striking tribal police assigned to guard polio workers and killing 11, police said. No one claimed responsibility for the two separate bombings, but anti-polio teams and their guards have been frequently targeted in Pakistan by Islamist militants.

Also Saturday, a bomb targeting security forces in the southwestern province of Baluchistan killed three soldiers and wounded six, the paramilitary Frontier Corps said.

Associated Press

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