Afghanistan Backs Pakistani Militant Talks

DO NOT USE: THIS IS NOT MEHSUD!!! -TJR Sources say Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world's top terrorist. CBS

Written for CBSNews.com by Farhan Bokhari, reporting from Islamabad.
Pakistan's new coalition government, which came to office in February after defeating supporters of President Pervez Musharraf, publicly said it would consider negotiating with militants linked to al Qaeda and the Taliban, to end more than five years of fighting between government troops and militants in a remote region along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

That statement from the new government was quickly followed by reports of Pakistani officials meeting with representatives of Baitullah Mehsud, the most notorious militant commander, widely believed to be linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The new government's announcement prompted anxieties among some Western officials including those from the U.S., who considered the offer of negotiation with militants as a dangerous concession to hardline groups which could potentially embolden them further.

The criticism of the proposed negotiations was driven by concerns surrounding an earlier peace agreement between the Pakistani government and the militants in 2006 in the remote Waziristan region.

The militants used the space given to them by the 2006 agreement to re-arm and re-organize themselves before returning to fight some of the 120,000 Pakistani military troops deployed along the Pak-Afghan border.

"Afghanistan supports any measure that leads to the restoration of security and stability, provided such a step does not cause the expansion of further terrorism into Afghanistan" said the Afghan foreign ministry in a statement on Saturday, referring to Pakistan's talks with the militants.

A senior western diplomat in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, speaking to CBS News on condition of anonymity, said on Saturday that the Afghan statement - while highlighting the security interest of Afghanistan - provided what seemed to be a semi-endorsement of Pakistan's initiative.

"Rather than blindly opposing Pakistan, the Afghans seem to be accepting Pakistan's position. This is a step forward, maybe even a significant step" he said. The diplomat said the Afghan statement could help Pakistan soften opposition to its negotiations with militants from critics such as the United States.

Pakistani officials said their government's offer to negotiate with militants in the border area was an important step to improve security conditions which have worsened in the country since last year.

Locations across Pakistan have been targeted in an increasing number of suicide and armed attacks believed by local intelligence officials to have been carried out under orders from Mehsud.

These attacks intensified after Musharraf ordered the military to storm a Taliban-style mosque in the center of Islamabad last summer, after clerics from the mosque began issuing "fatwa" (or religious decrees) proscribing what they considered "improper behavior" that clashed with Islamic norms. Such behavior included running shops selling CDs with music, and a group of Chinese women who ran an Islamabad massage center, which the clerics alleged was a cover-up for prostitution.
By Farhan Bokhari
  • CBSNews

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