Gilani Appeals to Pakistani Tribal Chiefs for Help on Militants
By Michael Heath

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani appealed to tribal leaders from South Waziristan, a region bordering Afghanistan, to help his government curb extremism and combat terrorism.

“I ask you people to tell me how to deal with elements bent upon militancy,” Gilani said at a meeting with chiefs yesterday, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

His administration is tackling Islamic extremism using a strategy of negotiation, economic and political development and selective use of military force in an effort to cut terrorist attacks that killed more than 2,000 people in Pakistan last year.

Gilani’s coalition government took office after opposition parties won February’s elections, defeating supporters of President Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in 1999 and was Pakistan’s army chief until November.

The prime minister told yesterday’s meeting in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, that people in the region need education, hospitals, clean drinking water and jobs. Pakistan wants peace and harmony in general and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in particular, he said.

A poll by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute released last week found that Pakistanis prefer negotiations over military action to combat extremism and back the policies of Gilani’s government.

Seventy-one percent of the 3,484 men and women surveyed last month supported talks and 61 percent want to use development and education to battle extremists, compared with 9 percent who preferred employing force, according to the poll.

Harsh Decisions
“I am against use of force but some elements are compelling the government to take harsh decisions,” Gilani told the tribesmen, according to APP. “The prime responsibility of the government is to maintain peace and ensure security to the life and property of law abiding citizens. To achieve the objective I will take every necessary step.”

He said heads of the parties in the ruling coalition government are scheduled to meet in Islamabad tomorrow for talks on security and to develop a strategy to meet the challenges.

The U.S. and NATO say Gilani’s policy of holding talks with militants in the tribal areas has led to increased attacks by Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Twenty-eight coalition soldiers were killed in June in the deadliest month for the force in Afghanistan since the conflict began there in 2001, the U.S. Defense Department said earlier this month.

U.S. Visit
Gilani is due to travel to Washington and hold talks with President George W. Bush on July 28.

“The president and Prime Minister Gilani have a lot of issues to talk about,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters yesterday in Washington, according to a transcript. “And certainly the FATA region will be one of them, and cooperation on counterterrorism. That will be the first priority on the agenda.”

The U.S. has given Pakistan $10 billion in mostly military aid since Sept. 11, 2001, with the aim of securing the nuclear- armed country against al-Qaeda. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. intelligence agencies say the terrorist network uses bases in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal region to train, re-arm and plan attacks against troops in Afghanistan.

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