Islamabad: The Pakistan government today cancelled a meeting with Taliban negotiators over the “heinous and brutal” execution of 23 troops by the banned militant group, raising doubts about a fledgling peace process aimed at sending a decade-old insurgency.
Stunned by a Taliban faction’s statement that it killed 23 Frontier Corps personnel held hostage since June 2010, state negotiators called off a scheduled meeting with the committee nominated by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the “heinous and brutal” killings by the Taliban faction in Mohmand Agency and said the peace process had been “sabotaged” whenever it reached an “encouraging point”.
Such incidents have a “negative impact” on the peace process, Sharif said in a statement issued by his office. “Pakistan cannot afford this bloodshed,” he said.
Sharif said his government opted for talks with the Taliban with “honesty and seriousness” on the basis of a decision made by an All-Parties Conference.
The powerful security establishment seethed with anger and security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the recent killing of 13 policemen in Karachi and the 23 paramilitary personnel were “blatant acts of terror”.
“These are high condemnable and provocative acts,” a senior official said.
Though the Taliban claimed the 23 personnel were executed as revenge for army operations in the tribal belt and the killing of militants, the officials said no terrorists had died in the custody of security forces.
“It is a baseless allegation and mere propaganda to justify their dastardly acts,” an official said.
Irfan Siddiqui, the head of the committee formed by the government for peace talks, said there was “no use” holding a planned meeting with Taliban negotiators. “It is sad that we are not moving in the right direction,” he said in a statement.
An emergency meeting of the government committee would be held tomorrow to discuss the situation and future course of action, he said.
Siddiqui deplored the killing of the 23 personnel, saying such acts will hamper serious and result-oriented talks.
Ibrahim Khan, a member of the Taliban-nominated committee, appealed to the banned group and security forces to abstain from violence. He said both sides should sit together and talk because not meeting was a worrisome development.
The negotiators from both sides have held preliminary talks aimed at forging a roadmap to end the insurgency that has killed some 40,000 people. The Taliban has called for the army’s withdrawal from the tribal belt and the implementation of Shariah or Islamic law.
However, observers have been sceptical about the negotiations producing lasting peace. They have pointed out that the Taliban have reneged on past peace deals or used them to consolidate their position.
Meanwhile, Yousuf Shah, a contact person for the TTP, said the Taliban negotiators led by hardline cleric Samiul Haq had met to discuss the latest developments.
He said it was regrettable that state negotiators had refused to meet the Taliban-nominated committee. Shah deplored the killing of the security personnel but said they still believed in maintaining contacts.