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Pakistan reaches out to militants

world Updated: May 18, 2008 22:52 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
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Will it be a policy of engagement with Taliban militants in Pakistan’s frontier areas or a mix of the carrot and stick? Contrary signals have been emanating from Islamabad, suggesting that the Gilani government is more than conscious of American sensitivities on the issue.

A day after American missiles struck Damadola village in the Bajaur Agency, killing at least 10 persons, the country’s defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar said on Friday that talks with the Taliban would help not just Pakistan, but the entire world.

According to Mukhtar, if the talks resulted in an agreement, it would have a major impact on cross-border militancy — a reflection of the links the militants have across the border in Afghanistan.

The defence minister also stated that this was not the first time that the government was holding talks with the Taliban, a reference to the ceasefire agreement reached by the previous regime with the militants in September 2006.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister’s adviser on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, insisted that no deal had been struck for the release of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, who had been kidnapped on February 11.

However, the Dawn newspaper reported from Peshawar that $2.5 million was paid for Azizuddin’s release and that three associates of Taliban commander Mansoor Dadullah were freed in exchange for the ambassador.

According to the newspaper, the army, which has suffered a bloody nose in operations in Waziristan, has been pulled back, even as 50 militants have been released in return for army and paramilitary personnel being held hostage by the militants.

Last year, over 100 security personnel were taken hostage in August by Taliban militants in South Waziristan. A military convoy was ambushed and the men taken into custody by militants owing allegiance to Baitullah Mehsud.

If the latest reports of repositioning or withdrawal of troops from South Waziristan are correct, then the policy of dialogue with the militants is clearly on the ascendant.

Pakistani analysts believe that the army’s performance in taking on Islamist militants has been below par and the new civilian government apparently feels that the new approach of dialogue might just work with the militants.

It is quite likely that the militants may use the space made available to them by the negotiations to expand their operations both in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which has long complained about the role of Pakistani militants in attacks on its territory.

The last has not been heard about the issue: it is quite likely that the Pakistan Army is also assessing the efficacy of operations conducted in South Waziristan.