Pakistan Taliban end cease-fire, setting back peace prospects
KARACHI, Pakistan — Pakistani Taliban militants said they were ending a cease-fire with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government, a blow to efforts to end more than a decade of violence in the nuclear-armed nation.
"The government failed to show any progress on our basic and just demands," Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. "The decision not to extend the cease-fire has been taken unanimously after a meeting of the central council."
Sharif is seeking to reach a deal with Taliban militants operating near Afghanistan to bring peace and bolster his nation's $225 billion economy. Any fresh violence by the Taliban will put pressure on the prime minister to mount military operations against them.
"I suspect the Taliban will now carry out attacks on the security forces, but not the people, so as to show that they are only punishing the forces for not accepting their demands," said Rashid Ahmed Khan, head of the international relations department at the University of Sargodha in Punjab province. "This is definitely a setback to the peace process."
The TTP had agreed to a cease-fire through April 10 to facilitate talks to end violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since 2001.
The Taliban have demanded the release of 300 people whom they say are family members of militants detained in government jails. The government has so far freed 19 prisoners. Militants are also demanding the establishment of a "peace-zone" for militants.
Sharif's aides held their first-ever direct negotiations with militants on March 26, and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said April 13 that a date for the next meeting would be announced in a few days.
The Taliban have accused the government of killing more than 50 of their members detained in government jails despite the cease-fire and arresting more than 200 people for suspected links to the militants.
The Taliban announcement came a week after a blast at a vegetable market in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, killed at least 23 people in one of the nation's deadliest attacks in six months. The Taliban condemned the attack.
The Taliban insurgency has curbed economic growth in the country of 196 million people. In September, Pakistan secured a $6.6 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to bolster the country's finances.
The TTP is a loose alliance of militant and sectarian organizations that oppose Pakistan's security alliance with the U.S. and want to impose their own interpretation of Islamic law.