Imran Khan declines Pakistan Taliban peace talks role

Imran Khan, file pic Khan's nomination over the weekend by the Taliban caused surprise

Pakistani politician Imran Khan will not be part of a team representing the Taliban in peace talks with the government, his party has made clear.

The ex-cricketer, who strongly favours talks, was an unlikely choice by the militants to be a negotiator.

His Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) says he is not needed at the talks as another party figure is on the government team.

A preliminary meeting between the two sides gets under way in Islamabad on Tuesday after months of violence.

Surprise

Although the PTI party strongly favours negotiations, a statement on Sunday said that Mr Khan would probably prefer to assist the peace process in another role.

"The core committee of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf appreciated [the] Taliban's offer to our chairman Imran Khan to become part of their committee," PTI spokeswoman Shireen Mazari told the AFP news agency on Monday.

She said senior party figure Rustam Shah Mohmand was already on the government team and could represent the PTI at the talks.

Negotiators nominated by the government and the Taliban are due to chart a "roadmap" for dialogue at their first meeting.

The chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz (right) and two senior religious party leaders, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq (centre) and Professor Ibrahim Khan hold a news conference in Islamabad on 3 February 2014 Negotiators for the Taliban have expressed optimism that the peace talks will bear fruit

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif caused surprise last week by announcing his team to begin talking to the militants, who have been waging an insurgency since 2007.

His announcement ended speculation that the government may opt for a large scale military offensive against militants based in the north-west following a bloody January in more than 100 people were killed, many of them soldiers, in Taliban attacks on military and civilian targets across the country.

In addition to Mr Khan the Taliban also named several hardline religious figures including Maulana Sami ul-Haq - known as the "Father of the Taliban" - on its team.

Mr Haq told AFP that Taliban negotiators would meet their government counterparts on Tuesday and afterwards would discuss with the militant leadership how to proceed.

"We expect a ceasefire from both the government and the Taliban - it's mandatory for the peace process," he said.

Mr Haq said that while the Pakistani Taliban had repeatedly called for Islamic Sharia law to be imposed throughout Pakistan, they had not yet put forward any formal demands for the talks.

"We will try to complete the negotiations in weeks instead of months," he said.

Others on the Taliban team include the chief cleric of Islamabad's Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, and two top religious party leaders - Mufti Kifayatullah and Prof Ibrahim Khan.

Mr Sharif's team comprises veteran journalists Rahimullah Yusufzai and Irfan Siddiqui, former ambassador Rustam Shah Mohmand and a retired major from the ISI intelligence service, Amir Shah.

In a rare address to the National Assembly last week, Mr Sharif said "terrorism" must be defeated, either by talks or force, and he was giving peace a last chance.

His government has been accused of dithering and lacking a coherent strategy in the face of the attacks.

Mr Khan's party leads the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering the tribal regions where many of the militants are based.

Both he and Mr Sharif campaigned in last year's elections on a ticket of pursuing talks with the Taliban.

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