Pakistani Taliban announce month-long ceasefire

The Pakistani Taliban Saturday announced a month-long ceasefire aimed at resuming stalled peace talks with the Pakistan government, but analysts voiced scepticism over the move.

Pakistani police officials inspect the site of a bomb attack on a police bus in Karachi on February 13, 2014

Dialogue between Islamabad and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that began last month was suspended after the militants killed 23 soldiers.

The military responded with a series of air strikes that have left more than 100 insurgents dead.

"We announce a month-long ceasefire from today and appeal to all our comrades to respect the decision and refrain from any activity (attacks) during this period," TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told AFP.

"Because of a positive response from the government, an appeal from the religious scholars and for the better future of Pakistan we have decided not to carry out any activity (attacks) for one month," he said.

There has been no official response from the government, but negotiators representing it in the stalled peace talks have welcomed the move.

Rustam Shah Mohmand, a member of the government committee for the talks, said it was "good news".

"Certainly we see light at the end of the tunnel," he told AFP. "The government too should announce a ceasefire to further strengthen the confidence-building measure."

He added that the government should now talk directly with the Taliban, rather than through intermediaries.

The ceasefire announcement came hours after a deadly attack on a polio vaccination team in the restive northwest that killed 12 people and injured several others.

Though no group claimed responsibility, Taliban insurgents have attacked polio teams believing they are a cover for espionage.

Pakistan's government and the TTP entered peace talks in February in an attempt to end a seven-year insurgency which has cost thousands of lives.

Despite near-daily attacks by the militants and air strikes by the government on insurgent hideouts, Pakistan's negotiators have insisted that the door for talks is still open.

But some analysts remained sceptical of the motivations behind the Taliban ceasefire.

Security analyst Imtiaz Gul termed the announcement a "cunning move".

"It seems that the Taliban are forced to announce a ceasefire because of the recent targeted strikes on their hideouts," Gul told AFP.

"There is always this possibility that the Taliban might use it as an opportunity to regroup," he said.

"This a risk that the government is taking."

Saifullah Mehsud, who runs the independent FATA think tank researching Pakistan's restive tribal area, also said it would be a chance for the Taliban to "rethink their strategy".

"It seems as if both the government and the Taliban are opting for negotiations -- but this time is very crucial for the government. The time that it will provide for the Taliban if it announces peace talks could be used against it," he said.

Last week Pakistan announced its first-ever counter-terrorism policy, seven years since the TTP began its bloody campaign against the state.

The interior ministry said it would adopt a "two-pronged" policy consisting of both targeted attacks and negotiations.

But amid rumours of a possible military operation in North Waziristan, home to the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban and the feared Haqqani Network, Pakistan's interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said there was still hope for talks.

"We have kept the doors of negotiations open and peace talks can resume anytime," Khan told lawmakers.

The government has struck peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban a number of times in the past but they have failed to yield lasting results.

The umbrella militant group emerged in response to a raid on a radical mosque in Islamabad, but Islamist violence in the country began to surge in 2004 following the army's deployment in the volatile tribal areas.

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