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23 April 2024

Pakistani leaders plan talks with militants: report

By Agencies


The leaders of the newly-formed coalition government in Pakistan intend to start negotiations with Islamic militants in the hope of ending a spate of bombings that has shaken the country, The New York Times reported on its website late Friday.

The newspaper said the leaders of the ruling coalition -- Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party and Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N -- said in interviews that they will use military force only as a last resort.

President Pervez Musharraf has summoned the new parliament on Monday to elect a prime minister, which will clear the way for a coalition government hostile to him to start business.

The allies of Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999, lost heavily in the February elections.

Benazir Bhutto's widower and co-chairman of the party, Zardari, has held a series of meetings with legislators and coalition partners on the choice of prime minister, but no clear front runner has emerged.

The talk of a softer approach to militants has alarmed US officials, who fear it could create problems for the US-led war on terror just as President Musharraf has given the administration of President George W. Bush a freer hand to strike at militants using pilotless Predator drones, the report said.

Many Pakistanis, however, are convinced that the surge in suicide bombings -- 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 -- is retaliation for three Predator strikes since the beginning of the year, The Times said.

Speaking in separate interviews, Zardari and Sharif tried to strike a more independent stance from Washington, the paper noted.

They said they were determined to set a different course from that of Musharraf, who has received more than $10 billion from Washington for his support," the report said.

"We are dealing with our own people," Sharif is quoted as saying. "We will deal with them very sensibly. And when you have a problem in your own family, you don't kill your own family. You sit and talk. After all, Britain also got the solution of the problem of Ireland. So what's the harm in conducting negotiations?"

Zardari said that the war against the insurgents has to be redefined as "Pakistan's war" for a public that has come to resent the conflict as being pushed on the country as part of a US agenda, The Times said.

"Obviously what they have been doing for the last eight years has not been working," Zardari is quoted as saying. "Even a fool knows that." (AFP)