Pakistan’s foreign minister asked U.S. officials on Monday to “not panic” over Taliban advances in western Pakistan, saying his country would not surrender or capitulate to militants.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan has sent militants in its tribal regions a “clear signal” that they must lay down arms and accept the writ of the Pakistan government. “We mean business, and if we have to use force we will use force. We will not hesitate,” Qureshi told The Associated Press on the sidelines of meetings with his Afghan and Iranian counterparts.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said Pakistan was “basically abdicating to the Taliban and the extremists,” though she later said Pakistan was beginning to realize the threat militants posed. “My response is: ’Please do not panic,”’ Qureshi said in response to Clinton’s comments. “We have now a common enemy and we’ve devised a common strategy to deal with the enemy. We will not surrender, we will not capitulate, and we will not abdicate.”
Pakistan on Sunday sent helicopter gunships and troops to attack Taliban militants in a district covered by the peace deal signed between the government and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. At least 31 people were killed in the operation in Lower Dir.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Muslim Khan, said on Monday that the operation was a violation of the pact and said their fighters were waiting to see if a hard-line cleric who mediated the deal pronounced it dead. Qureshi said the pact is still in effect.
Qureshi said Pakistan wants to concentrate more of its military forces on its western tribal region but that the United States needs to help lower tensions between Pakistan and India _ longtime rivals _ so that military resources can be moved to the tribal regions.
In recent days, Taliban forces from Swat began entering Buner, a neighboring district 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Officials said most of the insurgents pulled out of Buner on Friday, and Qureshi said militants would not advance closer to Islamabad.
The deal in Swat allowed Taliban officials to implement a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Militants have burned girls’ schools and forced women to wear the all-encompassing burqa, much like the Afghan Taliban did in the late 1990s. “I will tell you why: Because the overwhelming (majority) of Pakistan are opposed to what they believe in,” he said. “We will not accept what they’re saying. We want our girls educated. Pakistani women are very talented.”