Pakistan and local Taliban militants have agreed to a one-month ceasefire which may be extended if both sides consent, spokesmen said on Monday, opening the possibility of a fuller peace accord to help end years of bloodshed.
The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule the South Asian nation of 220 million with their own brand of Sharia.
There have been numerous failed attempts to reach peace agreements in the past. The latest talks were opened following the victory of the Afghan Taliban in August and the two sides have been meeting across the border in Afghanistan, with the aid of Afghan Taliban leaders.
“The government of Pakistan and banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have agreed on a complete ceasefire,” Pakistan's Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said. He added that the ceasefire would be extended as the talks progressed.
Best-known in the West for attempting to kill Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work promoting girls' education, the TTP has killed thousands of military personnel and civilians over the years in bombings and suicide attacks.
Among its attacks was a 2014 assault on a military-run school in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, which killed 149 people including 132 children.
As recently as Saturday, it claimed a bomb blast that killed four soldiers and wounded another in North Waziristan tribal district. It said the attack was in revenge for the killing of four of its fighters two days earlier.
Mr Chaudhry said the ceasefire agreement would be in line with Pakistan's constitution and would ensure state sovereignty and national integrity.
Ready for dialogue
The TTP, which sources said had been demanding the release of a number of prisoners as a condition for full ceasefire negotiations, said it was “ready for a dialogue that will lead to lasting peace in the country".
It said the ceasefire would come into force from Tuesday and last until December 9 and could be extended if both sides agreed. Special committees had been set up to try to map out the negotiation process.
The agreement comes days after the government in Islamabad reached an accord with another militant group, Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan or TLP, after weeks of violent clashes.
The TTP, which is on a US State Department list of foreign terrorist organisations, has carried out a brutal campaign of oppression in tribal districts along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including public floggings and executions to enforce its harsh version of Sharia.
The group was badly weakened by Pakistan military offensives which drove it from its stronghold in the tribal districts but it is estimated to control some 4,000-5,000 fighters, many based across the border in Afghanistan.
Both Pakistan and the former western-backed government in Kabul regularly accuse each other of providing shelter to Taliban groups and allowing them to conduct cross-border attacks.