Thursday, June 5, 2008

Pakistan Suspends Tribal Peace Talks

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has decided to suspend peace talks with tribes in north and south Waziristan. The apparent sticking point is the insistence by Pakistan, at the behest of the United States, that the tribal leaders agree to stop attacks on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal today, this move by Pakistan's new government could bolster ties between Islamabad and Washington as the Pentagon voices increasing concern that the Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militant groups have used the peace talks, and accompanying cease-fire agreements, to intensify their military strikes inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan, consequently, will maintain its military presence in South Waziristan and continue to conduct offensive operations against militants throughout the tribal belt, unless they agree to the new terms set down by Mr. Gilani's government, according to officials familiar with the talks. This decision is likely to mean an end to the current ceasefire being observed by the militants and the military on the Pakistani side of the border. It raises the specter of the return of the suicide bombers to the streets of Pakistani cities.

The Bush administration and Mr. Gilani's government have intensified discussions over counterterrorism strategy in recent weeks. U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is in Islamabad for two days of talks with senior Pakistani military officers, including the army's chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani. Islamabad's new ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, has also met with senior Pentagon and State Department officials in recent days, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Gen. David Petraeus.

"These negotiations should remove a major impediment in U.S.-Pakistan relations," a senior Pakistani official reportedly told the Wall Street Journal.

The White House's National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Wednesday he couldn't comment on any continuing discussions between the U.S. and Pakistan on counterterrorism operations.

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