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New Pakistani Government Tries Talking Peace with Taliban Militants


Pakistan's top Taliban commander has suspended rare peace talks with the country's new government. A spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud April 28 said that the commander broke off the talks because the government is refuses to withdraw the army from a tribal region bordering Afghanistan. There has been no response from government officials. VOA's Ravi Khanna spoke with Pakistan experts in Washington about the situation.

One of the problems that the new government in Islamabad inherited is the challenge of stopping militant violence in the country. The new prime Minister says he is also determined to stop fundamentalists in the tribal region from giving safe haven to al-Qaida's foreign fighters.

The coalition government, led by the Pakistan People's Party, has said it will also use negotiations as a tool.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher agrees. He told reporters last week that some of the tribal leaders are ready and willing to work with the government.

"I just spent an hour or hour-and-a-half with about 10 representatives of various tribal elders and representatives of the tribes from the border areas of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The message I got from them is, 'Work with us. support the Jirga [assembly of tribal elders] process. We can talk things out. We can bring people over and we can work with you as necessary,'" Boucher said.

On April 29, Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the umbrella militant group known as Tehrik-e-Taliban, pulled out of the ongoing peace talks. He said the government must remove troops from the region. Last week, he had ordered his fighters to cease-fire.

Lisa Curtis at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation says ceding to Mehsud's demand may provide only temporary respite from the suicide bombings within Pakistan. But, she adds, it is not going to help in terms of stemming the international terrorist threat emanating from that region.

"If the Pakistani military is to begin to pull back from this region, that is only going to increase the ability of Taliban elements to cross into Afghanistan and fight the coalition forces as well as improve the capabilities of al-Qaida to train and prepare for its next international attack," Curtis said.

In Washington, Walter Andersen of Johns Hopkins University says the new government in Pakistan will have to use both the carrot and the stick. The carrot, he says, would be to address the militants' real concerns about economic depravation of the region.

"And the stick has to be that if we find that you are doing something that violates the spirit and the intent of the agreement, we are going to crack down," Anderson said.

Curtis says the Pakistani military so far has not made any gains and the militants have the upper hand. And to change the situation, she says Islamabad should accept U.S. help.

"The U.S. is committed to counterinsurgency training of the Frontier Corps [the local Pashtun military troops that are stationed there]. It [the U.S.] is committed to economic development of the region and try to drive a wedge between al-Qaida and the locals who live there," she said.

Some American analysts who have been to the region say a crackdown becomes difficult because local tribes are harboring al-Qaida fighters from other countries, and some Pakistanis will be killed in any attempts to destroy the al-Qaida hideouts.

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