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Pakistan opposition chief backs talks with Taliban

Last Updated: Saturday, July 3, 2010 - 23:42

Islamabad: Pakistan`s top opposition leader
said on Saturday that the government should negotiate with the
country`s Taliban militants to ease the relentless security
crisis in the nuclear-armed, US-allied nation.

Nawaz Sharif made the comments two days after a pair of
suicide bombers killed 42 people at a famed Sufi shrine in the
province controlled by his party, the Pakistan Muslim
League-N. The party is considered more religiously
conservative and aligned with pro-Taliban parties than the
Pakistan People`s Party, which runs the federal government.

The comments also come as Pakistan tries to weigh in on
reconciliation efforts between Afghanistan`s government, the
US and the Afghan Taliban. Still, the ruling party in
Islamabad has not made the same push in Pakistan for quite
some time - at least not overtly - and its past peace deals
with Pakistani militant groups have usually collapsed.

Sharif said Islamabad shouldn`t wait for directives from
Washington on how to deal with its problems.

"We have this problem in our home. Why shouldn`t we take
initiatives?" he said in a news conference in Lahore that was
broadcast live. He specified that the government should talk
to the "Taliban who are ready to talk and ready to listen."

Federal government officials could not immediately be
reached for comment.

Sharif`s party has been criticized in recent months for
not going after militant groups in Punjab province, which the
party runs and where several lethal ones operate that have
ties to al Qaeda and Taliban fighters based along the Afghan
border in the northwest. One recent group that has emerged in
the eastern province has been labeled the "Punjabi Taliban."

Punjab`s law minister has even campaigned alongside
members of Sipah-e-Sahaba, a Sunni extremist group bent on
eradicating minority Shiite Muslims. And the party`s leaders
often respond equivocally or not at all on the subject of
Islamist extremism in Pakistan.

Sharif is a former prime minister who was overthrown in a
1999 coup by then-Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf`s
government and the one now in power tried several times to
negotiate with Taliban fighters who have strongholds in the
northwest. But for the most part, those peace deals failed.

In 2009, the government agreed to impose Islamic law in
the Swat Valley to appease militants there, but that deal
collapsed after the militants started moving outside the
district to spread their reign closer to the capital.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, July 3, 2010 - 23:42

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