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Pakistan, Taliban begin peace talks

ISLAMABAD — The Pakistani government entered into formal talks with Taliban insurgents Thursday, exchanging possible ground rules for how best to try to reach a negotiated peace agreement.

A four-member delegation appointed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met for several hours with three representatives of the Pakistani Taliban in what is considered a last-ditch attempt to avoid a major domestic conflict.

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The Pakistani Taliban, formed when militant groups coalesced in late 2007 and early 2008, has waged a bloody insurgency aimed at imposing a harsh interpretation of Islamic law in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan. Under pressure domestically and abroad to end the violence, Sharif has sought for months to get the Taliban to the bargaining table.

If an agreement is not reached soon, the normally cautious prime minister may be forced to order military action, even as early as spring.

After the meeting, held at a government guest house in Islamabad, the two sides read a joint statement describing the gathering as ‘‘cordial.’’

The government team, led by Pakistani journalist Irfan Siddiqui, told the Taliban delegation that it wants an immediate cease-fire and the talks to remain within the framework of Pakistan’s constitution. The government also requested that the talks be limited to concerns only in those areas where the insurgency is strongest, most notably the resistive tribal areas near Afghanistan.

That request may be a precursor to future government concessions allowing greater autonomy for the Taliban in areas like North and South Waziristan, while trying to avoid elevating the group’s sway in more populated
areas.

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