Central & South Asia
Peshawar jirga backs war on Taliban
More power for traditional tribal councils urged along with firm military action.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2010 07:17 GMT
Tribesmen accused the US and Pakistan of caring only about internal political issues [EPA]

An umbrella group of aid organisations and political parties from Pakistan's semi-autonomous regions near the Afghan border have issued a declaration calling for the army to crush the Taliban.

The statement was issued at the end of a meeting, attended by some powerful tribal leaders, held on Saturday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

Participants called for the army to escalate its attack against the network of fighters across the tribal regions, dismissing Pakistan's earlier offensives as "military dramas".

Sayd Alam Mehsud, a powerful tribal leader, said : "It should be a genuine military operation like the Sri Lankans did against the Tamil Tigers."

He was referring to the military campaign that destroyed the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka.

The participants also called for more power for traditional councils.

'Culture and tradition'

Salar Amjad Ali, who took part in the meeting, said: "If we strengthen these councils and make them more functional, I believe it will win us half of the war. We, the Pashtuns, live for our culture and tradition and we die for it."

Tribal councils - or "jirgas" - play a central role in the Pashtun culture that dominates the region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

These often-lawless regions, havens for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, have been the scene of bloody fighting and regular attacks by US drone aircraft as the Pakistani and US governments try to defeat the fighters who oppose the existence of foreign military on their countries' soil.

Smaller council meetings are used in tribal areas to decide matters ranging from local administration to criminal cases.

While Saturday's meeting was not a formal jirga, it is rare to have so many tribal leaders gather together.

'Sapling of terrorism'

A declaration at the end of the meeting called democracy vital to rooting out terrorism, arguing that Pakistan's powerful military - which many see as the true power behind the country's elected government - should keep out of politics.

"A sapling of terrorism cannot grow in democracy. Any attempt to derail democracy is like letting the terrorists walk all over us," the declaration said.

One organiser, Syed Alam Mehsud, said the meeting was a way to bring together people from the area that is suffering most in Pakistan's war against Taliban.

"We have just tried to unite people for the sake of peace," he said.

Participants said they had little faith in the US-Pakistan alliance, and that Washington and Islamabad were more worried about internal political issues than dealing with the social issues at the root of much of the violence.

'Terrorists' mindset'

Mehsud said: "If we do not address the mindset of the terrorists, we will not be able to eliminate terrorists."

The tribal leaders urged the government in Pakistan to reach out to the fighters - but also to crush those unwilling to negotiate.

"We tribesmen are more patriotic than anybody else," Din Mohammad Khan, who had come South Waziristan, said.

"Pakistan is ours. We are for Pakistan."

A government offensive that began last year is is thought to have killed hundreds of people - both fighters and civilians - in South Waziristan.

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