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Pakistan FM Defends Taliban Peace Talks on Eve of Afghan Trip

Pakistan's foreign minister says government peace deals with pro-Taliban militants are aimed at establishing a "peaceful coexistence" with the groups. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that Shah Mehmood Qureshi also said critics of the deal are "cynical."

Pakistan's peace agreements with Taliban militants have drawn concern from NATO forces, Afghan officials and the U.S. government who worry they will be short-lived truces that only undermine the war against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

But a day before leaving on his first trip to Kabul, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi pushed back against critics during a forceful speech before parliament.

"When we talk of peace, we also have to tell our friends, who at times are cynical about the peace negotiations that Pakistan has undertaken," said Qureshi. "Look at the spirit behind that negotiation. The spirit is not capitulation, the spirit is not compromise, the spirit is peaceful coexistence."

Pakistan's border tribal regions, named FATA, are populated by fiercely independent tribes that have long opposed any central government control.

But Qureshi says many people in the region have been caught in the crossfire between Taliban militants and the Pakistani army and the locals now mainly want peace. The foreign minister said if the government can win over residents by bringing peace through dialogue and, if necessary, military force - officials can try to end the regions' economic and political isolation.

"This area has been deprived for the last 60 years," said Qureshi. "And that is why the government feels this area has to be amalgamated, has to be integrated into mainstream life."

In Afghanistan, local officials and NATO commanders have worried that those long-term plans will not get off the ground - and withdrawing Pakistani security forces from parts of the border region will mainly allow Taliban forces free reign to regroup and launch attacks.

But Qureshi said that Pakistan should not shoulder all of the blame for the Taliban insurgency.

"The insurgency if it's being tackled fully and completely across the border - it has to be seen and it has to be debated," he said. "To what extent has the government of Afghanistan been able to establish its writ outside the urban cities of Afghanistan?"

In recent years Pakistan and Afghanistan have accused each other of not doing enough to combat Taliban militants, stunting cooperation between the two sides. On Wednesday, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan U.S. General David McKiernan said a top priority is recreating a joint military commission including Pakistan and Afghanistan that addresses border issues.