Oct 17, 2008

World - Pakistan Taliban 'want to talk'

Syed Shoaib Hasan

Taleban militants fighting the Pakistan army in the country's tribal areas say they are willing to hold unconditional talks with the government.

Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the militants, said they were also willing to lay down their arms if the military ceased operations against them.

The army is conducting operations against militants in the tribal region of Bajaur and the Swat valley.

The operations are said to be a serious effort to eradicate the Taleban.

The army wants them and al-Qaeda to be removed from Pakistan's tribal regions next to the Afghan border.

'No foreigners'

"We are willing to negotiate with the government without any conditions," Maulvi Omar told the BBC Urdu service on Wednesday.

"We are also willing to lay down our arms, once the military ceases operations against us."

Pakistan's government has said that it is willing to talk to the militants once they lay down their arms.

But it has also said it will not tolerate the presence of any foreigners in the region.

Maulvi Omar said that the local Taleban did not want foreign militants in the region and would help the government to remove them.

"We can set up a shura [elders] committee to liaise with the authorities in removing such people," he said.

Maulvi Omar said it was useless to debate the security situation in parliament without taking the Taleban into confidence.

"What is the use of discussing the situation without talking to us?" he asked.


Pakistan's military says it has killed and captured hundreds of militants in recent fighting in Bajaur and Swat.

The military also says that it has destroyed fortified encampments and training facilities of the militants in Bajaur.

But locals point out that this is mainly a series of exaggerated claims made by the military.

They say the militants never fight in regular positions, or behind fortifications, in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The tribesmen also say that claims that dozens of militants have recently been killed are also exaggerated.

Local journalists say that many of the places where the military claimed to have killed the insurgents were abandoned weeks before any attack.

They also say that there is a big discrepancy between the number of bodies recovered and buried and the numbers of militants the military claim to have killed.

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