PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Taliban has suspended talks with the government, a negotiator said yesterday, as helicopter gunships pounded suspected militant hideouts in the northwest of the country.
“Our council of leaders met on Sunday night and decided to suspend peace negotiations with the government in North West Frontier Province,” said a spokesman for Sufi Mohammad, the cleric who negotiated a peace deal between the two sides in February.
“We, however, still adhere to the February deal,” Ameer Izzat Khan said, referring to the highly controversial accord that put three million people under Shariah law.
The announcement came after Pakistan’s military launched a fresh offensive against Taliban fighters in the northwest, under intense US pressure to stop the advance of the extremists in the region. Troops killed 20 militants in a ground and air operation in the northwest yesterday, the military said. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned in Kabul yesterday the Afghan-Pakistan border was a “crucible of terrorism” as he touted a new strategy to tackle insurgency. Later, Brown arrived in Pakistan for talks on topics including cooperating against international terrorism.
The Taliban promised to lay down their arms in exchange for Shariah courts in a deal billed as the end of a nearly two-year brutal insurgency that ripped apart the once-peaceful Swat area.
But the agreement was followed by further encroachments in the region, and the government has been in talks with the militants to try to restore peace there. President Asif Zardari, who recently ratified the Shariah accord, told AFP yesterday that troops had now ousted the Taliban from Lower Dir.
But he said more police were needed on the ground to prevent the militants from regaining control there. Zardari said the peace deal with the Taleban remained valid “until the NWFP government tells me otherwise.”
Zardari yesterday asserted that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were in safe hands. Zardari ruled out the possibility of his country’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of the Taliban. Zardari said the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden remained a mystery and there was a suspicion that he could be dead.
He said US officials had told him that they had no trace of the Al-Qaeda chief and the same view was shared by his own intelligence agencies.