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Negotiators ‘confident’ of Pak-Taleban cease-fire

ISLAMABAD: A negotiator for the Pakistani Taleban said Thursday he was “confident” the militants would extend their month-long cease-fire, following a first round of direct talks with the government.
Islamabad began negotiations with the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP) through intermediaries last month to try to end the Islamists’ bloody seven-year insurgency.
On Wednesday a four-member government committee comprising three civil servants and a former diplomat held their first meeting with members of the TTP’s political council in North Waziristan tribal district. Few details have emerged from Wednesday’s talks but extending a Taleban cease-fire — declared to help the peace process but due to expire next week — was seen as a top priority.
Professor Muhammad Ibrahim, a member of the Taleban’s original negotiating committee who attended Wednesday’s session said he was hopeful this would be achieved.
“We are confident that the cease-fire will be extended,” he told AFP.
“Our efforts will be to ensure that there is a permanent cease-fire.”
Ibrahim said the two sides were trying to build confidence in one another and would meet for more talks in “the next few days.”
The TTP has also asked the government to release around 300 people including women and children it says are being held despite being “non-combatants.”
There have been suggestions that high-profile figures held by the militants, including the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, could be freed in return.

Court sentences man to death for blasphemy

A court in Pakistan sentenced a man to death for blasphemy Thursday, his lawyer said, over an incident that triggered a riot in the country’s second-largest city.
Sawan Masih was convicted of anti-Islam comments during a chat with a Muslim friend in the Joseph Colony neighborhood of Lahore in March last year.
Naeem Shakir, one of Masih’s lawyers, told AFP: “The judge has announced the death sentence for Sawan Masih.
“We will appeal the sentence in the Lahore High Court.”
Verdict and sentence were announced inside the jail where Masih was held, Shakir said.