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Islamabad holds first-ever direct talks with Taleban

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani government team held first-ever direct talks with the Taleban on Wednesday, according to a cleric representing the militants.
The negotiations are part of a push by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to sign a peace deal with the Taleban that would end a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.According to Ibrahim Khan, a cleric who has represented the Tehrik-e-Taleban Pakistan, the face-to-face discussions took place at an undisclosed place in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
The Pakistani team, headed by government official Habibullah Khan Khattak, flew in a helicopter to the location for the talks, described as a “peace zone,” Khan said.
The talks come at a sensitive time for Pakistan, where daily militant attacks challenge the government’s authority.
The Taleban have announced a cease-fire during the talks but attacks claimed by their splinter groups have continued. TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid has denied the group’s involvement in the recent violence.
The main challenges of negotiating a peace settlement are the many groups and factions behind the violence, with many operating outside the Taleban control, including both local and foreign Al-Qaeda-linked militant outfits.
The direct talks were originally to take place on Tuesday, but bad weather prevented the government helicopter from traveling to the northwest.
The talks, promoted by Sharif, have proceeded in fits and starts since he took office last year.