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Prisoner Exchange At Top of Agenda For Talks

Taliban negotiators Sami-ul Haq (L) and Ibrahim Khan.
Taliban negotiators Sami-ul Haq (L) and Ibrahim Khan.
Negotiators said both the Pakistani government and the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) consider the release of prisoners a priority issue, and are expected to agree on terms soon.

In addition, former lawmaker Ibrahim Khan, a Taliban negotiator, told Radio Mashaal that insurgents are expected to announce an extension of the ceasefire. The current truce expired today, March 31.

"We don't have a formal announcement of the ceasefire extension, but as long as the talks continue the truce will last," he told Radio Mashaal on March 31.

Khan said that a possible exchange of prisoners between the two sides is expected soon. "This issue tops the list of demands from both sides," he said. "We are talking about all prisoners. First, we are working on non-combatants and then we will look into dealing with combatants."

Rustam Shah Mohmand, a negotiator for the government, said a formal announcement of a ceasefire is necessary for the talks to move forward. "We requested the Taliban to extend the ceasefire [during our first direct talks with them last week]," he said. "Although they have not made a formal announcement, we expect them to stick to the truce until our next round of talks."

Mohmand, a former diplomat, said the two sides expect to set a time and venue for the next round of negotiations this week.

He also said that the government was eager to work on exchanging prisoners with the Taliban. "This should go ahead as soon as possible," he said.

Islamabad began pushing for negotiations with the Taliban soon after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assumed office last year. The Taliban agreed to talks earlier this year, and announced a month-long ceasefire on March 1 in advance of the first meeting.

But attacks on civilian and security forces have not stopped. Scores of civilians and soldiers have been killed in brazen militant attacks after the announcement of the truce. Some of the attacks were claimed by Ahrar-ul Hind, a previously unknown militant faction opposed to TTP talks with the government. No attacks were claimed by TTP, which condemned the violence.