Peace talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban were suspended in acrimony Monday, as a government committee refused to meet with Taliban representatives in the aftermath of the reported killing of 23 paramilitary soldiers in militant captivity.
A faction of the Taliban had claimed responsibility for the killings late Sunday, throwing an already faltering peace process into further uncertainty.
The paramilitary soldiers, belonging to the Frontier Corps, had been held hostage since 2010. A faction of the Taliban insurgents, which wields influence in the northwestern Mohmand tribal region, said that the soldiers had been killed in retaliation for recent killings of Taliban prisoners in government custody in Karachi and Peshawar.
Omar Khalid Khurasani, a spokesman for the Taliban faction in the Mohmand tribal region, warned of more attacks against security forces.
“We want to make it clear to the government that we know how to take revenge,” Khurasani said.
Pakistani government officials deny extrajudicial killings and dismissed the Taliban claims as propaganda.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the news of the killing of paramilitary soldiers, describing it as a “brutal and heinous act” that would hurt the peace talks.
“Pakistan cannot afford such bloodshed,” Sharif said in a statement released by his office.
Irfan Siddiqui, the top government negotiator, while canceling a scheduled meeting with Taliban representatives Monday, said that it was useless to hold talks right after the killing of paramilitary soldiers.
“We have to say with regret that things are not moving in the right direction,” Siddiqui said. He did not say when talks might resume.
The Taliban representatives expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the meeting.
Sharif first announced the holding of peace talks with the Taliban on Jan. 29 despite growing demands in the country for military action against the militants.
The United States has been pressuring Pakistan to conduct an offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, the rugged tribal region that has been a haven for Taliban and al-Qaida militants operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Before Sharif announced the start of the peace talk process, Pakistani civil and military officials had been signaling for weeks that a military offensive was under preparation.