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Govt says no to military operation against Taliban

18 December, 2013

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ISLAMABAD: The government ruled out military action against the Taliban on Tuesday and promised to pursue peace only through talks, but the insurgents immediately rejected its call for negotiations.

The Cabinet's Committee on National Security Tuesday reaffirmed the government's commitment to the strategy of carrying out negotiations with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and considering use of other options only as the last resort. A meeting of the committee, chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, focused on three key issues –formulation of national security strategy to safeguard national interests, strategy on internal security, and relations with Afghanistan. The committee deliberated upon the government's strategy to engage various groups of Pakistani Taliban to address the issues of extremism and militancy.

It directed the ministries concerned to take measures to facilitate regional peace and stability. The prime minister apprised the committee of his recent visit to Kabul. He said a number of steps were agreed with Afghanistan on political security, and economic and commercial cooperation. The committee agreed that economic development and prosperity of the people was linked to security and stability in the country. The committee members expressed complete unanimity on national security issues.

The committee agreed on a number of measures concerning enhancement of security on western border, development of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and other bordering areas to bring them at par with national standards. The meeting was attended by Minister of Defence Khawaja Mohammad Asif, Minister of Finance Ishaq Dar, Minister of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Pervaiz Rashid, Minister of Interior Nisar Ali Khan, Adviser to the PM on National Security Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistance to the PM on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatmi, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Rashad Mahmood, Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Asif Sandilla, Air Chief Marshal Tahir Rafique Butt, ISI director general and secretaries of ministries of foreign affairs and interior.

Mullah Fazlullah, TTP's new leader, says peace talks are meaningless and has pledged to step up attacks as part of his campaign to topple the central government and establish Islamic rule in Pakistan. The emergence of Fazlullah has prompted speculation that Pakistan might have to ditch hopes for a negotiated ceasefire and resort to military action against militants holed up in lawless areas on the Afghan border. But the government said the Taliban's tough rhetoric did not mean negotiations had failed.

"Their public posturing is different from what's going on in the background," said Tariq Azeem, a senior official in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's team. "They want to appear tough but back channels show that they are also interested in talks." The Taliban immediately dismissed the concept of peace talks. "Like previous governments this one is a puppet of the United States. It's powerless and dollar-hungry," said Shahidullah Shahid, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman.

He told Reuters the Taliban had information that plans were already under way for a state military operation, saying the Taliban were ready for battle. "They should happily launch a military operation against us. We have seen their military operations in the past and would like them to start this long-awaited operation," he said defiantly. Under Fazlullah, Taliban fighters took over Swat valley in 2009, eventually prompting the army to launch a major offensive to flush them out of the strategic region just 160 km northwest of Islamabad.

"The Committee deliberated upon the government's strategy to engage various groups of Pakistani Taliban to address issues of extremism and militancy," Nawaz's office said in a statement. "The Committee reaffirmed (the) government's commitment to the strategy of negotiations with TTP (Pakistani Taliban) and consider the use of other options only as a last resort." Fazlullah has promised a new campaign of shootings and bombings against the government, particularly in Punjab – Nawaz's political powerbase. But, a month after he took over as the Taliban chief, there have been no major attacks in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban are allied with the Afghan Taliban but Afghan Taliban militants are intent on expelling foreign forces from Afghanistan and do not fight the Pakistani government.


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