Over 100 Taliban killed in Pakistan’s northwest, peace talks underway (Roundup)

May 1st, 2009 - 10:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Islamabad, May 1 (IANS) Over 100 Taliban fighters have been killed in six days of operations in Pakistan’s restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the military said Friday, even as the provincial government opened peace talks with a radical cleric and a top US commander served notice that Islamabad had just two weeks left to deal with the militants.
“Some 55-60 militants have been killed in the last 24 hours during the offensive against the Taliban in Dir and Buner,” chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said at a media briefing here Friday afternoon.

A similar number have been killed since the operation began in Lower Dir Sunday and in Buner Tuesday.

“The operation is continuing successfully”, Abbas said, adding the security forces were facing “stiff resistance” but the people of the two districts were “fully supporting” the operation.

Meanwhile, the first round of talks between the NWFP government and Taliban-backed radical cleric Sufi Mohammad on restoring peace in the area ended Friday on what was described as a positive note.

“The (military) operation will be halted if peace is restored in the area,” NWFP Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain said after the talks, during which “all the issues” had been discussed “in detail”.

Hussain represented the provincial government at the talks, which were held in the Teemargarha headquarters of Lower Dir district.

Sufi Mohammad’s spokesman Izzat Khan said the talks were positive and that “efforts would continue to establish peace in the troubled areas”.

Speaking to Geo TV, the cleric’s son Maulana Rizwanullah described the meeting as “successful” and said that people would soon hear “good news”.

Sufi Mohammad had brokered the controversial Feb 16 peace deal with the NWFP government under which Sharia laws were to be imposed in Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and four other districts of the province in return for the Taliban laying down their arms.

The accord had come into force April 15 but the Taliban did not live up to their end of the bargain and moved out of their Swat headquarters to take control of Buner, which lies just 100 km from Islamabad.

On his part, General David Petraeus, who heads the US Central Command, has told US officials that the coming two weeks would be “critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive”, Fox News reported.

“The Pakistanis have run out of excuses” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of the country’s northwest, the general said.

Criticising Pakistan’s attitude towards fighting the insurgents, Petraeus said “we have heard it all before” that Pakistan was doing its best to eliminate the Taliban threat.

He said that he is looking forward to seeing concrete action by Islamabad in the next two weeks before determining the US’ next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counter-insurgency training and aid.

Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, the news channel reported, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The sources also told the channel that no one in Washington has an “understanding of Taliban’s true objective”.

It remains unclear to policymakers here whether the Taliban wants to overthrow the Zardari government or merely to carve out territory within Pakistan in which it can establish safe haven, impose Sharia law, and plot attacks against external targets.

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