Pakistan opposition chief backs talks with Taliban
Last Updated: Saturday, July 03, 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.


First Published: Saturday, July 03, 2010, 23:42

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