Islamabad - Negotiators representing Taliban insurgents said Wednesday there was no chance of peace in Pakistan until the government embraces Islamic sharia law and US-led forces withdraw completely from neighbouring Afghanistan.
The tough conditions appear to deal a blow to hopes that talks with the Pakistani government could end the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgency that has rocked the nuclear-armed country since 2007.
Initial peace talks failed to get under way Tuesday when the government delegation refused to meet the militants' negotiators, citing confusion about the make-up of their team.
The two sides are expected to try to meet again on Thursday or Friday, though no definite arrangements have yet been made.
Washington and Kabul have been deadlocked over a pact known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, which would allow some US troops to stay on in Afghanistan beyond 2014, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai refusing to sign it.
Its supporters say the pact is crucial to Afghanistan's stability after the bulk of NATO forces pull out.
But Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, the head of the TTP's three-man talks team, told AFP there could be “no peace” in the region while there were still US troops across the border.
His comments were echoed by his fellow TTP negotiator Maulana Abdul Aziz, who also said the TTP's long-held commitment to imposing sharia law across Pakistan was not open to debate.
“Without sharia law, the Taliban won't accept (the talks) even one percent,” he told AFP.
“If some factions accept it, then the others won't accept it.
There has been scepticism about what the talks could achieve. Local peace deals reached with the militants in the past have quickly fallen apart.
“Their real agenda is sharia,” Aziz said, suggesting that all Pakistan's secular courts based on the common law system be abolished.
“I don't think the government will accept this but they should, because war isn't the way forward.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's announcement last week that he wanted to give peace talks another try caught many observers by surprise.
The start of the year has seen a surge in militant violence, with more than 110 people killed, and many had expected the military to launch an offensive against TTP strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas.
Aziz's followers at Islamabad's radical Red Mosque engaged in an armed confrontation with the Pakistan army in 2007 in which more than 100 people died.
The siege is regularly cited by Islamists as one of their main motivations for taking up arms and was also the catalyst for the creation of the umbrella TTP faction in 2007.
Despite the incident and his vocal backing for jihad, Aziz was cleared of all criminal charges against him last September. - AFP