Pakistan all set for direct negotiations with Taliban

Maulana Sami ul-Haq (C), one of the Taliban negotiators, speaks during a news conference with his team members Ibrahim Khan (L) and Maulana Abdul Aziz (R) in Islamabad February 4, 2014.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's negotiators have agreed on a location to hold direct peace talks with the Taliban, the head of the militant group's negotiation committee said on Saturday.

"The process of talking directly to the Taliban will start in two to three days, both sides have agreed on the venue", Sami Ul Haq, a negotiator for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), told reporters, following a meeting also attended by the country's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

"Both sides are showing flexibility and a willingness for success of the talks," Haq added, saying the chosen place would be declared a "peace zone" but without specifying its location.

The agreement came despite Taliban accusations earlier Saturday that security forces had fired mortal shells and conducted raids on hideouts in tribal regions of the country.

In a statement issued to the media, TTP spokesman Shahid Ullah Shahid alleged that security forces were torturing Taliban prisoners.

"These incidents are meant to force us towards war," Shahid said.

The government opened negotiations with the TTP last month in a bid to end their bloody seven-year insurgency.

The process broke down for more than two weeks after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers, but later resumed after the Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire.

In an effort to take the talks to a higher level, the government last week formed a new four-member committee to begin direct contact with the Taliban.

Negotiations have so far been conducted through teams of go-betweens, which some observers say has hampered their effectiveness.

The peace talks were a key campaign pledge for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif before he was elected to office for a third time last year.

But analysts are sceptical about their chances for success, given the Taliban's demands for nationwide sharia law and a withdrawal of troops from the lawless tribal zones.

Many regional deals between the military and the Taliban have failed in the past.

Moreover, attacks claimed by splinter factions have continued during talks and despite the Taliban ceasefire.