Pakistan militants say ready to talk
Monday, 31 March 2008

By Sahibzada Bahauddin

REUTERS, INAYAT KALLAY, Pakistan - The Pakistani Taliban welcomed on Sunday the new government's readiness to negotiate an end to a spreading conflict in Pakistan, but vowed to carry on fighting American forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

"We're ready for talks and to extend all kinds of cooperation to the government in order to bring peace in the tribal areas," Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Tehrik-e-Taliban, told Reuters.

"But our fight against American and other foreign forces in Afghanistan would continue," said Omar, who was attending a gathering a several thousand tribesmen in the Bajaur region.

Muslim clerics and militant leaders, guarded by several hundred armed fighters, delivered speeches in a field near the main bazaar of Bajaur's Inayat Kallay town, while chants of "Long Live Osama" and "Long Live Omar" rang out.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Afghan Taliban chief Mullah Mohammad Omar are lionised as champions of Islam in many parts of the Pashtun tribal belt, a region that the United States regards as a crucible for Islamist militancy.

The United States fears that any reduction in pressure on militants based there will fuel the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and provide al Qaeda with breathing space to organise attacks in the United States and Europe.

The defeat of President Pervez Musharraf's political allies in an election last month has meant that Washington has to deal with a government intent on trying alternatives to policies that have resulted in mounting insecurity in nuclear-armed Pakistan.

After winning a vote of confidence in the National Assembly on Saturday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said his government would talk to anyone ready to lay down arms to resolve problems afflicting the backward, insecure tribal areas.

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