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Much At Stake In Pakistan Talks With Taliban


We turn now to Pakistan. Government officials there stepped into the lion's den this past week. They flew by helicopter to the mountainous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan for a face-to-face meeting with the Pakistani Taliban. The two sides have been holding preliminary peace negotiations through third parties off and on for weeks. These were their first direct talks and there is much at stake. Tens of thousands of Pakistanis have died in the conflict between Pakistan's homegrown Taliban and the government. And what happens in Pakistan impacts the security situation in neighboring Afghanistan. We're joined by NPR's Philip Reeves, who is in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Good morning, Phil.


MARTIN: So, what happened at this meeting? Anything substantive come out of this?

REEVES: Well, since these talks, the Taliban side began talking about extending the cease-fire there. There was some indirect talks yesterday and this came out of those. A cease-fire's been in place here for the past month. We're not sure how long it could be extended. It was due to expire this coming Tuesday. Though it's reduced the violence, it hasn't stopped it completely. In fact, this weekend, journalists in Pakistan are staging nationwide protests after gunmen in Lahore opened fire on a TV presenter and political analyst who's a well-known critic of Islamist extremism. The journalist escaped with minor injuries but his driver was killed, and there's a big uproar about this.

MARTIN: So, that are the key issues still under negotiation right now?

REEVES: Much of the focus at the moment seems to be on the release of prisoners and hostages who are considered noncombatants. Among those being held by the Taliban are the son of a former prime minister and the son of an assassinated provincial governor, and also the vice chancellor of a university. And these three are high on the list of people that the government wants back. Meanwhile, the Taliban's accusing the government of holding prisoners, several hundred noncombatants, including women, children and the elderly. And they're pressing for their release, although officials here have reportedly been saying that they don't have them.

MARTIN: As we said, there's an inherent connection between what happens in Afghanistan and what happens in Pakistan. What are the impacts of these negotiations and the cease-fire on the current situation in Afghanistan, especially as that country ramps up for elections?

REEVES: Well, the Pakistan Taliban is separate from the Afghan Taliban, but the two do have close ties. And as you say, Afghanistan is going to hold presidential elections next weekend. The Afghan Taliban has vowed to disrupt those elections, and we've seen that. We've seen a spike in Afghanistan of deadly attacks there all of the sudden. Now, a couple of days ago, the Afghan interior minister said the Pakistan cease-fire deal with Taliban insurgents on this side of the border is allowing militants to switch their attention to Afghanistan and to infiltrate Afghanistan to stage attacks ahead of the elections. Some people here speculate that the Pakistani Taliban is not therefore negotiating in good faith and that these talks are just a ruse to allow the militants to concentrate on wrecking the Afghan elections and generally to regroup.

MARTIN: So, big picture question. You've covered Pakistan for a long time. Can there be some kind of lasting peace deal?

REEVES: Well, that is the key question. And, you know, opponents of the talks say that deal simply just can't work in the long-term because of the irreconcilable differences between these two sides. The Taliban want to impose sharia law in Pakistan, ultimately across the country. And their core objectives contradict Pakistan's constitution. Consider, for example, their treatment of women.

MARTIN: NPR's Philip Reeves in Islamabad. Thanks so much, Phil.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.