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Taliban sets tough conditions in peace talks

Taliban negotiators have demanded the release of all imprisoned fighters and the withdrawal of troops from tribal areas

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Taliban insurgents have set tough terms for peace talks with the Pakistani government, demanding the release of all imprisoned fighters and the withdrawal of troops from the tribal areas, officials said Monday.

The militants conveyed their demands via a team of Islamist clerics who are holding talks with the government on the Taliban’s behalf.

Negotiating teams held a first meeting on Thursday, but the dozen conditions now laid down by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) will further fuel doubts about chances of success, Agence France-Presse reported.

A TTP commander told AFP the prisoner and troops issues were a “test case” for the government to prove its sincerity.

“This is the first round of talks. The committee members will now meet the government committee and will forward our demands, they will meet us again with a reply,” the commander said.

The three-member team representing the Taliban met with the insurgents’ 10-member council at their headquarters in the mountainous tribal district of North Waziristan over the weekend.

Among the Taliban’s demands are that the Pakistani military withdraw troops from the tribal areas taken in 2003 after the U.S. invasion in 2001 of Afghanistan. The military launched operations against homegrown militants and foreign fighters in those areas.

The Taliban said they wanted security in the tribal areas taken out of the hands of the army and given to local security and administrative officials, a move which would strengthen the militants’ control, AFP reported.

They also demand that the Taliban’s estimated 4,000 prisoners, including those awaiting execution, must be freed.

The negotiating team was led by Professor Ibrahim Khan of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious political party and also included clerics Yousuf Shah and Maulana Abdul Haseeb, AFP reported.

The Taliban’s other demands included nationwide implementation of a strict form of Islamic shariah law and Islamic-based education at all levels, an end to Pakistan’s military support for the United States and a halt to drone strikes, and an end to interest-based banking.

Talks between the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Taliban began last week.

(With AFP)