Historic talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban were in disarray before they even started on Wednesday after government negotiators backed out at the last minute.
“Canceling the talks at the eleventh hour indicates that the government is being forced to turn around by powerful quarters,” said Professor Ibrahim Khan, who belongs to the Islamist Party of Islam (Jamaat-e-Islami) and is one of those nominated by the Pakistani Taliban to speak on their behalf.
The Taliban representatives arrived in the Pakistani capital on Tuesday at the invitation of the government. Officials canceled the meeting, however, citing a lack of clarity about whether the negotiators were empowered to represent the militant group.
On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the United States had sharply curtailed drone strikes at the request of Pakistan’s government to allow the talks to continue.
The Taliban has yet to confirm its exact demands ahead of talks, although they reportedly rest on three main issues: a cessation of military operations against the militants across the country; the release of Taliban prisoners from Pakistani, Afghan and American prisons; and the implementation of Muslim Shariah law across throughout Pakistan.
The country’s powerful military was poised to embark on a major assault on the militant stronghold of North Waziristan if the talks, now scheduled to begin on Thursday, do not bring about some agreement.
After an unusual uptick in terror attacks in January, followed by intense retaliation by the military in North Waziristan last week saw both sides announce their willingness to talk, potentially ending the 13-year struggle that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.