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Pakistani Leaders Reaffirm Support for Dialogue with Militants


Top Pakistani political leaders representing the ruling coalition government are reaffirming their support for dialogue, not military force, to deal with Taliban militants. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports the leaders met before the Pakistan prime minister's visit to Washington next week.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani convened the meeting of top party leaders in the coalition government to discuss security issues, mainly the Pakistani Taliban presence in western Pakistan that is blamed for strengthening the insurgency across the border in Afghanistan.

Military officials briefed the meeting about the situation with Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal regions. The military has launched operations against a few militant groups in recent weeks, but lawmakers said that overall they still support striking peace agreements.

U.S. officials have expressed concern that such agreements could strengthen Taliban strongholds in Pakistan.

Lawmaker Maulana Fazlur Raham, the leader of one of the country's conservative religious parties and a former supporter of the deposed Afghan Taliban government, told reporters after the meeting that despite U.S. concerns the peace talks are the best method for restoring law and order.

He says although international powers care about their interests, Pakistan must look after its interests and peace talks must be continued.

Pakistani politicians and news media have expressed concern in recent weeks that U.S. and NATO forces are planning unilateral military strikes on Taliban targets in Pakistan's tribal areas. NATO officials have denied there are troop buildups along the border.

But Pakistan's strategy for dealing with the militants is expected to be a top issue during Prime Minister Gilani's trip to Washington next week. He is scheduled to meet with President George Bush on Monday.