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Church bombing spurs Pakistan to give up on Taliban peace talks

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By McClatchy Newspapers
Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 8:06 p.m.

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called off plans for unconditional peace talks with terrorists after a series of deadly attacks that culminated in Sunday's suicide bombing of a church, which killed 83 people.

“We had proposed peace talks with the Taliban in good faith, but because of this attack, the government is unable to move forward with what it planned and envisaged,” a visibly upset Sharif said late on Sunday on a flight to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Peace talks with militants from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the formal name for the Pakistani Taliban, were a key part of Sharif's platform in the campaign leading up to May's parliamentary elections, which his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party won. The Taliban seemed to favor his proposal, excluding from their pre-election terror campaign candidates from Sharif's party and another party that had favored peace talks, the Movement for Justice Party.

But since Sharif won approval for the talks in September from leaders of the country's political parties, the Taliban have stepped up attacks, apparently considering the idea of talks as a sign of weakness within Sharif's government and of division with Pakistan's powerful military, which has opposed negotiations.

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud ordered the intensification of the militants' campaign of attacks and on Sept. 14 issued two conditions for talks: the release of 50 jailed commanders and the withdrawal from the northwest tribal areas of 150,000 Pakistani troops deployed there.

Mehsud incensed the military by assassinating a two-star army general the next day in the northern Dir district, where Pakistani troops have been fighting Pakistani Taliban factions that fled there in 2009.

The assassination of Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi strained relations between the military and Sharif, whose government had failed even to find intermediaries capable of setting up a dialogue with the militants.

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