Pakistani PM agrees to hold terrorism conference after opposition calls for Taliban talks

By Sebastian Abbot, AP
Sunday, July 4, 2010

Pakistani, PM agrees to terrorism conference

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s prime minister agreed to hold a national conference on ways to combat terrorism after the main opposition leader said the government should negotiate with the country’s Taliban militants to improve security.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s decision late Saturday came just two days after a pair of suicide bombers killed 42 people at a famed Sufi shrine in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province where the opposition controls the government.

The agreement to hold a national conference represents a rare moment of consensus between the two parties, which have clashed over how to address the problem of growing violence in Punjab, the country’s richest and most populous province.

Officials in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party have called on the provincial government to crack down on militant groups once supported by the country’s intelligence agencies but now allied with the Pakistani Taliban against the state.

Members of the provincial government, which is controlled by the Pakistan Muslim League-N party, have resisted — a move analysts say is driven by its reliance on banned militant groups to deliver key votes during elections.

Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif added a new twist to the debate Saturday by calling for the government to negotiate with Pakistani Taliban militants “who are ready to talk and ready to listen.”

It was unclear exactly with which groups Sharif expected the government to talk. There are numerous militant organizations in Pakistan, and they often overlap and work together.

The government has brokered peace deals with Taliban fighters along the Afghan border in the past, but they have usually collapsed and have often given the militants time to regroup and consolidate their control.

Sharif’s push for talks comes as Pakistan tries to weigh in on reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan between the government, the United States and the Afghan Taliban.

The press release announcing that Gilani and Sharif agreed to hold a national conference on terrorism did not specifically mention the opposition leader’s call to negotiate with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, militants continued their campaign of violence in the country’s northwest near the Afghan border.

A roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying members of an anti-Taliban militia in Dara Adam Khel on Sunday, killing two and wounding three others, said Mohammad Shafiq Khan, a local political official.


Associated Press writer Riaz Khan contributed to this report from Peshawar.

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