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Talks left in shambles after negotiators fail to turn up

PAKISTAN'S much-awaited talks with the Taliban have got off to a shambolic start after government negotiators failed to turn up at an agreed time following days of confusion over who should represent the insurgents.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif surprised his country last week when he announced he would give peace talks another chance just as speculation intensified his government was preparing for a military offensive against Pakistani Taliban strongholds.

The Pakistani Taliban are fighting to topple the central government and establish Islamic rule but have recently shown willingness to come to the negotiating table.

A group of bearded negotiators representing the Taliban arrived at an agreed venue in central Islamabad yesterday for what had been scheduled to be the first round of talks.

After a two-hour wait, a visibly angry Maulana Sami ul-Haq, one of the Taliban negotiators, said: "We arrived on time for the meeting but the government side didn't turn up. Our doors are still open for talks. It's a golden opportunity and we should not waste it."

Confusion marked the days leading up to what was expected to be the first historic day of informal talks, with the Taliban nominating a list of public figures to represent them, including cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, without seemingly consulting them first.

Mr Khan declined the Taliban's request.

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