Pakistan's Imran Khan declines to represent Taleban in peace talks with govt

Former Pakistan cricketer turned politician Imran Khan (right) and cricketer Shahid Afridi (left) look on during the launch ceremony of a cricket talent search in Peshawar on January 25, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Former Pakistan cricketer turned politician Imran Khan (right) and cricketer Shahid Afridi (left) look on during the launch ceremony of a cricket talent search in Peshawar on January 25, 2014. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The party of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan said on Monday they "appreciated" a Taleban request for him to represent them in peace talks with the government, but declined the offer.

Two teams, nominated by the government and Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP), will hold a preliminary meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday afternoon to chart a "roadmap" for talks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif caused surprise last week by naming a team to begin dialogue with the militants, who have been waging a violent insurgency since 2007.

Following a bloody start to the year, with more than 110 people killed in militant attacks in January, many had been anticipating a military offensive against TTP strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.

The TTP named Mr Khan as one of its negotiators on Saturday, along with several hardline religious figures including Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, known as the "Father of the Taleban".

Mr Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, has been a vocal supporter of negotiating with the insurgents.

But PTI spokesman Shireen Mazari told AFP on Monday that because a senior party figure, Rustam Shah Mohmand, was already on the government team, Mr Khan's presence was not needed.

"The core committee of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf appreciated Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan offer to our chairman Imran Khan to become part of their committee," Ms Mazari said.

Mr Haq said his team would meet its government counterparts on Tuesday and afterwards discuss with the TTP leadership how to proceed.

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

He told AFP that the TTP, which has repeatedly said it wants Islamic syariah law to be imposed throughout Pakistan, 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.

A grenade attack on Sunday in a cinema in the north-western city of Peshawar, which killed four people, has raised fresh doubts about the viability of any peace deal with the TTP, a fractious coalition of militant groups.

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