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Asia

Pakistan's fragile ceasefire with the Taliban

Violence continues in Pakistan despite the Taliban's announcement of a month-long truce last week. Meanwhile, the demand for an all-out military offensive against the militants is growing in the Islamic country.

At least 11 people, including a session court judge, were killed in bomb attacks in the country's capital Islamabad on March 3 (main picture). It was the first such incident after the Pakistani Taliban - also known as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) - announced a month-long ceasefire on Saturday, March 1, to facilitate peace talks with the Pakistani government.

The negotiations between Islamabad and the Islamist insurgents formally began last month. But they came to an abrupt halt after the Taliban continued to attack civilians and security forces. The government responded by striking the militants' hideouts in the restive North Waziristan region, which borders Afghanistan, killing scores of insurgents.

Pakistani fighters F-16 fly on November 4, 2013 during in the Azm-e-Nau-4' (New Resolve) military exercise in Khairpure Tamay Wali in Bahawalpur distirict.

Islamabad said it was halting air strikes against suspected Taliban hideouts in the country's restive tribal region

On March 1, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told the media that he had called on "all comrades to respect the decision and refrain from any activity during the ceasefire period." Pakistani authorities hailed Shahid's statement and said they would reciprocate the gesture by immediately stopping the "surgical strikes" against the extremists, thus raising hopes that the seven-year-long violent Islamist insurgency in Pakistan would finally come to an end.

Rahimullah Yusufzai, a member of the government's negotiation team, told AFP that the truce inceased the possibility of resuming peace talks. "A ceasefire was the demand of the government ... But it should be effective, and there should be no attacks."

Can the Taliban be trusted?

But Monday's attack on an Islamabad court has once again raised doubts about the outlawed TTP's intentions. Many in Pakistan believe the Taliban are not serious about peace and that the truce announcement is only a tactic to avoid the military strikes and win more time to regroup after suffering heavy losses in the Pakistani Air Force's recent bombings in their northwestern strongholds.

Pakistan Taliban in South Waziristan in 2012

Many in Pakistan believe the Taliban are not serious about achieving peace

Nasir Tufail, a journalist working for a private TV channel in Karachi, says he has no faith in Shahid or the TTP. "The militants will not cease the attacks. They are deceiving everyone. The only way to deal with them is through power," Tufail told DW.

The journalist criticized Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government for lacking a "proper policy" to tackle the issue of terrorism in the country. The government's approach towards the Taliban is reactionary, he said, as Islamabad has limited itself to simply responding to the insurgents' attacks.

The journalist believes the ceasefire won't last for long and that Islamabad will eventually have to go after the insurgents. "The Pakistani people gave Sharif a mandate for peace and not for truce with the Taliban in the May 2013 election. There won't be any peace if the PM keeps giving concessions to the Islamists," Tufail said, adding that he had no doubt that most Pakistanis would support an all-out military offensive against the Islamists.

Rallying support

Last week, hundreds of thousands of Karachi residents participated in an anti-Taliban rally demanding that the central government launch a decisive military action to uproot the fundamentalists. The so-called "solidarity rally" was organized by the liberal Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party, which has a big support in the Islamic Republic's southern urban cities.

Supporters of Muttahdia Qaumi Movement (MQM) hold placards during a protest against the Taliban, in Karachi, Pakistan, 23 February 2014. Pakistani fighter jets bombed suspected Islamist militants' hideouts for the third time in a week on 23 February, killing 18 insurgents in their north-western stronghold, officials said. The air strikes in the tribal district of Khyber were the latest in a series since peace talks between the government and the Taliban collapsed last week after the militants said they had executed 23 paramilitary soldiers who had been in their custody since early 2010.

Many Karachi residents participated in a rally demanding decisive military action to uproot the Taliban

Saman Jafri, one of the rally organizers and a member of parliament, says that Pakistan's progressive parties must unite against the religious fanatics if they want their country to survive. "We are pro-Pakistan and anti-Taliban, and we stand behind the security forces who are fighting the militants and sacrificing their lives. It is now or never, and the people have said 'no' to extremism," Jafri told DW.

"The Taliban threat should be taken seriously," Abdul Hai, a veteran human rights activist in Karachi, told DW. "We see that the Taliban influence is growing, and it means that a huge disaster is in the making." This view is shared by Nizamuddin Nizamani, a political analyst and researcher, who argues that the government shouldn't negotiate with "terrorists."

'No harm in negotiating'

In last year's parliamentary elections, the liberal Pakistan People's Party - which preferred military action against the Taliban over peace talks - was voted out of power. The parties that supported a dialogue with Islamists won the elections by a big margin.

Sharif, who returned to power for the third time as PM, made clear his government would not follow the anti-terrorism policy of former president Asif Ali Zaradari and would instead try to make peace with militants. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party rules the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, is also a big supporter of the talks.

Lahore-based political commentator Aamir Khakwani points out that there is no harm in negotiating with the pro-peace members of a militant group. "The talks are aimed at ending violence and forcing the Taliban to lay down their weapons, not to legitimize them," Khakwani told DW.