Pakistani government and Taliban negotiators resumed peace talks Wednesday and said they were ready to move to a decisive “second phase” even as a militant attack killed six military personnel.
The government opened negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last month in a bid to end their bloody seven-year insurgency, but the process broke down more than two weeks ago after militants killed 23 kidnapped soldiers.
The Taliban announced a month-long ceasefire at the weekend and the two sides met in the country's northwest on Wednesday.
The resumption came despite a major attack in Islamabad on Monday claimed by a splinter group that killed 11 people and a roadside bomb killing six paramilitary troops on Wednesday.
A joint statement read out after the meeting in Akora Khattak, 50 kilometres east of Peshawar, the main city of northwest Pakistan, said the talks had entered a “crucial stage”.
Lead government negotiator Irfan Siddiqui told reporters they had made “satisfactory” progress.
“We are now launching the second phase of the dialogue after completion of the first one, which focused on mutual consultations,” he said.
“The second phase will be of decision-making and we have to make important and far-reaching decisions.”
More than 110 people have been killed in militant attacks since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced talks with the TTP in late January.
As a result some observers have questioned Sharif's dialogue strategy, suggesting that the TTP is either insincere or simply unable to control the various militant groups carrying out attacks in Pakistan.
There have been rumours of splits within the militant movement over the talks, with some hardliners opposed to the process.
The TTP, an umbrella grouping of different militant factions, distanced itself from Monday's attack, the deadliest in the Pakistani capital since a huge truck bomb hit the city's Marriott Hotel in 2008.
A new group called Ahrar-ul-Hind admitted to that attack, while Wednesday's roadside bomb was claimed by the Ansar-ul-Mujahideen militant group.
Ansar-ul-Mujahideen has been active in Pakistan's restive tribal areas along the Afghan border for around three years.
The group's spokesman Abu Baseer told AFP: “We have carried out this attack to avenge drone victims. We are not part of the Pakistani Taliban so we aren't bound by their ceasefire.”
The TTP ceasefire prompted the government to suspend air strikes on militant targets in the tribal areas that had killed more than 100 insurgents, according to security officials.
The ceasefire announcement was met with scepticism by some analysts, who said it may be a tactic to allow the militants to regroup after they had suffered heavy losses in air strikes.
Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the radical cleric leading the TTP's talks team, urged the government not to let negotiations be derailed by attacks, saying the “enemy will leave no stone unturned to prevent this process from reaching logical conclusion.”
The government has struck peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban several times in the past but they have failed to yield lasting results.