Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former diplomat, is representing Pakistan in peace talks with the Taliban aimed at bringing the insurgency to an end. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Fareshta Nigah, Mohmand spoke positively of the first meeting, and said the two sides agreed they would meet subsequently to move the process forward.
RFE/RL: As an important member of the government negotiating committee, you participated in the first face-to-face meeting with the Taliban on March 26. Where did you meet and what did you discuss?
Rustam Shah Mohmand: We met the members of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership council in [the northwestern] Orakzai tribal district. Our discussions continued for nearly seven hours and covered a range of issues. I cannot say that we had any agreements, but it was the first time that a government delegation held direct talks with the TTP leaders.
RFE/RL: Do you consider the discussions positive? Can you comment on the atmosphere during the negotiations?
Mohmand: The atmosphere was very positive. We even had lunch together and were able to hold open discussions in informal settings. They presented their demands to us and we laid out our proposals. We are trying to create consensus, but still there are substantial challenges and problems.
There is still a lack of trust. There are misconceptions and there has been a lot of suffering and destruction on both sides. Eventually we agreed that we will meet again in the near future.
RFE/RL: What were the major demands of the Taliban from the government?
Mohmand: The Taliban demanded that the government release their members from prisons across the country. Some of them are being incarcerated in remote places from [the southern seaport city of] Karachi to [the tribal districts of] Mohmand and Bajaur in the northwest. They called for an end to all government checkpoints and asked for the gradual withdrawal of all security forces from the tribal areas. In addition, they asked for a neutral venue for future negotiations. They cannot use regular roads because of numerous security checkpoints and heavy military presence.
RFE/RL: And in return, what did the government demand?
Mohmand: We asked them to stop fighting, lay down arms, and return to peaceful life. We asked them to dismantle their militant bands and embrace the Pakistani political system.
RFE/RL: The Taliban had announced a month-long ceasefire. Did they extend the ceasefire?
Mohmand: They didn't extend the ceasefire, but we are trying to get them to agree to a truce extension. We urged them to commit to refraining from resuming their attacks because it will give us time to get some of their members released from prisons. Such a move will motivate them to formally announce a ceasefire extension.
RFE/RL: While there is a ceasefire in Pakistan, there are daily attacks in neighboring Afghanistan that kill civilians and target the election process. Afghan officials have attributed these attacks to the Pakistani ceasefire. Did you try to convince the Taliban to also stop attacks inside Afghanistan?
Mohmand: There is no truth in such claims because Pakistan has built nearly 1,200 border posts, while the international troops have established hundreds of checkpoints on the other side of our shared border. So it is not possible for militants to infiltrate into Afghanistan in large numbers. Some individuals, however, can cross the border, but a mass militant infiltration is difficult.