A long-awaited first round of peace talks between Pakistani Taliban insurgents and the government has started in Islamabad after numerous delays and growing doubt over the chance of their success.

The insurgents have been battling since 2007 to topple Pakistan's government and establish strict Islamic rule, but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif believes both sides are now ready to find a negotiated settlement and stop fighting.

Irfan Siddiqui, a ­government negotiator picked by Mr Sharif, described the atmosphere as "cordial and friendly".

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Several earlier efforts at striking peace deals with the militants failed to end the violence for long, only allowing them to regroup, recruit new fighters and strike back with renewed vengeance.

Pakistan's neighbours are watching closely, acutely aware that another failure to find a peaceful solution could further destabilise the region already nervous ahead of the expected pull-out of most foreign forces from neighbouring Afghanistan.

The meeting was expected to agree on a roadmap for future discussions.