Pakistan to go ahead with peace talks despite bombing
The Pakistani government said on Saturday it would continue peace negotiations
with Islamic militants, a day after a car bombing next to police station killed
four people in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
"There are some elements who want to disrupt the peace process, but they would not be allowed to dictate us," NWFP's provincial information minister Sardar Hussain Babak told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
"We will go ahead with the peace talks with militants as planned," he added.
Babak's secular Awami National Party, which inflicted a crushing defeat on Islamists in February 18 polls in the province, is currently holding informal talks with the Pakistan Taliban Movement (TTP), a militant umbrella group led by fearsome tribal commander Baitullah Mehsud.
As a confidence building measure, Mehsud directed his followers on Wednesday to halt attacks on Pakistani security forces, warning that anyone violating it would be severely punished.
But a bomb planted in a car parked close to a police station in NWFP's Mardan district exploded on Friday, leaving four people dead and injuring more than 30, many of them policemen.
A TTP spokesman accepted responsibility for the attack saying it was carried out to avenge the killing of one colleague at the hands of local police, but Mehsud expressed displeasure over the bombing.
"It is possible that some of our comrades operating in the far off areas might not have received the message," he was cited as saying by the English newspaper The News.
"We will not allow such incidents to derail the (peace) process," he added.
Babak welcomed the statement saying his government wanted to see an end to the bloodshed in the region.
Mehsud, who is entrenched in tribal district of South Waziristan bordering Afghanistan, has been blamed for ordering dozens of suicide bombings across Pakistan, including the one that killed former prime minister Benazir Bhutto late last year.
He denies the responsibility of the murder of Bhutto, whose Pakistan People's Party now leads the government at the centre and supports talks with the militants.
Some media reports suggested this week that a 15-point peace accord had been drafted to be signed soon by some tribal leaders on behalf of Mehsud and the NWFP government.
Under the deal, the militants would be required to expel all foreign militants, mainly al-Qaeda terrorists, who had fled there after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Dawn newspaper reported Wednesday after viewing the draft agreement.
In return, the government will gradually withdraw military troops from the area.
But the planned peace deal did not stop the tribal rebels from launching cross-border attacks on NATO-led international forces in Afghanistan. "Our 'jihad'on the other side of the border will continue till America ends its occupation of Afghanistan," TTP spokesman Maulvi Omar said.
Babak admitted that in the presence of US forces close to the Pakistani border it might be difficult to immediately contain cross-border actions into the neighbouring country, adding the objective could be achieved with the support of the western countries.
"The United States and European Union should provide more funds for developmental projects in the tribal belt so that young people could have employment opportunities. This is how they can be stopped from joining the ranks of Islamic militants," he added.
Pakistan has previously signed peace deals with the Islamic extremists, including Mehsud, but these failed, leaving President Pervez Musharraf with no choice but to go all out against the rebels.