ISLAMABAD, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- After much uncertainly, it seems that the Pakistani government and the Taliban are inching towards the much anticipated peace dialogue after the militants formed a committee of senior political and religious leaders to sit face-to- face with the government's negotiators on their behalf.
The Taliban's central council unanimously agreed Saturday to open talks with the government and formed a five-member committee of leaders who favor a peace dialogue with the government. It is the first time that the Taliban, blamed for most of the attacks in Pakistan, showed some seriousness to the peace talks.
Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said the Taliban leadership has formally requested the committee members to go ahead with the dialogue process.
Two members of the Taliban's proposed team have already agreed to participate in the preliminary talks, saying they will soon meet to discuss its strategy.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has earlier formed a four-member committee headed by one of his special advisers to open dialogue with the Taliban.
Professor Ibrahim, a member of the Taliban committee, said that he had already contacted another designated senior member of the committee, Maulana Sami-ul-Haq, to discuss the timetable for their internal consultations.
Coordinator of the prime minister's dialogue committee, Irfan Siddiqui, said that they are still awaiting a formal communiqu from the Taliban about their negotiating team. "We will convene a meeting to respond to the Taliban's proposed committee after we formally receive their names,"Siddiqui said Sunday.
The formation of committees on both sides is first major step to bring forward the dialogue process that has been hoped for by the people of Pakistan for a long time, even during the previous government.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP first offered dialogue to then government in February last year. However, the talks with the former Pakistan Peoples'Party government failed to jumpstart because of differences of opinion and other external issues that have cropped up.
The Taliban withdrew its offer after a U.S. spy aircraft killed their deputy chief Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud in May last year.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif renewed the offer of dialogue to the Taliban in June last year after his Pakistan Muslims League ( PML-N) party won parliamentary elections and formed government. Later he won the support for the Taliban dialogue of all the major political and religious parties in the country.
The powerful Pakistani Army also extended its tacit support for the peace process despite the continuation of the Taliban attacks against security forces.
The government came under tremendous pressure to launch a major push against the Taliban in their last stronghold of North Waziristan tribal region last month after the Taliban increased attacks on the security forces and killed dozens of soldiers.
Lawmakers of the ruling party also backed a major offensive against the Taliban when they met in Islamabad last week. Sections of the media and majority of political commentators and defense experts were also in favor of a strong military response to the deadly attacks by the Taliban.
However, the prime minister, who was expected to announce a massive anti-Taliban operation, surprised the majority in Pakistan when he reiterated in offering the olive branch to the militant group obviously to avoid more bloodshed.
Meanwhile, Sharif strongly hinted that if the peace offer is rejected and the Taliban continues with its deadly attacks, he would not hesitate to use the full force of the government to go after them.
With the latest development, it seems that the Taliban has finally seen the possible consequences of their continued intransigence.