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Pakistani Taliban ready to hold talks with govt

March 31, 2008 17:16 IST

Reacting to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani's invitation for a dialogue, the Pakistani Taliban have said they are prepared to hold talks with the new government provided it 'severed diplomatic relations with the United States' and enforced Sharia in tribal areas.

Addressing a rally attended by thousands of tribesmen shouting anti-US slogans like 'Death to America,' in the tribal Bajaur tribal Agency on Sunday, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan commanders welcomed Gillani's announcement that his government will negotiate with militants and end the Colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations law.

Taliban commanders Moulvi Faqir Muhammad, Moulvi Sher Bahadur and Muhammad Ismail, while addressing the tribesmen, said, "We hail Prime Minister Gillani's announcement to repeal the FCR," adding that the government should also implement Shariat in the northwestern tribal areas and sever diplomatic relations with the US.

The Taliban leaders said the militants were ready for talks with the government, and their men are observing a ceasefire with the government but would not surrender their weapons as long as the US and its allies were present in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban are patriotic people and do not want to fight with their own government. We have waged jihad against America. But the country will suffer as long as Pakistan remains an ally of the US in the war on terror in the region," Muhammad said.

The leaders also warned the tribal elders of consequences if they met the US officials. US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher had met tribal leaders in an area bordering Afghanistan during their recent visit to Pakistan.

Claiming they were the defenders of Pakistan, the Taliban commanders said the country's western border was safe because of them. The commanders said they were ready to end their activities in Pakistan to improve law and order if the government showed 'flexibility', but their jihad against the US will continue in Afghanistan.

The new government, Muhammad said, should not repeat the mistakes of the previous administration and it must change its internal and external policies. The meeting also called on the government to remove unnecessary checkpoints in the tribal areas and asked women to adopt the veil.

Gillani had said in parliament on Saturday that ending terrorism will be a top priority of his government and offered to hold talks with militants who laid down their weapons The Awami National Party, which draws its support from the ethnic Pashtun community in the northwest, had initiated contacts with the Pakistani Taliban and other groups for peace negotiations.

Rezaul H Laskar in Islamabad
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