Zardari open to talks with Taliban

Pakistan president expresses readiness after meeting British PM to end diplomatic row.

    Zardari, left, and Cameron said they had put their differences behind them [AFP]

    Zardari's comments are likely to raise eyebrows amongst Pakistan's western allies, who have been encouraging the country to fight the Taliban, not talk to them.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera, PJ Mir, a political analyst, said: "I feel this is going to bring in a lot of criticism.

    "People are losing lives on an everyday basis in Pakistan and, of course, on the borders.

    "So to talk and sit down with them [the Taliban], and again, give them time to regroup, and again, bring their mindset, it's going to be a very difficult task."

    Diplomatic spat

    Pakistan's approach to dealing with armed groups was thrust into the spotlight last week after Cameron ignited a spat between the two countries by accusing Islamabad of "exporting terror" and looking "both ways" in the battle against the Taliban. 

    "We never closed the dialogue.We had an agreement, which they broke. Talks will resume whenever they feel we're strong enough and they can't win, because they won't win.''

    Asif Ali Zardari, president of Pakistan

    Zardari hit back at the allegations of double-dealing, arguing that Pakistanis are often victims of attacks on their own soil and insisting that Islamabad is committed to fighting armed groups in the region.

    The prime minister's remarks prompted the Pakistani government to summon Britain's ambassador to Islamabad earlier this week for a dressing down.

    Pakistan intelligence chiefs cancelled a trip to the UK in retalitation for the comments and Zardari also came under pressure to abandon his trip over the controversy.

    Despite standing by his words, Cameron has accepted that Pakistanis are often the victims of attacks, including the one that killed Zardari's late wife Benazir Bhutto, the former premier assassinated in Pakistan in 2007.

    'Stand together'

    The two leaders agreed to put the dispute behind them during Friday's meeting, with Zardari insisting that the two countries will "stand together" in the face of difficulties.

    Mir said: "I think that what president Zardari has done is defuse a very, very tense situation.

    "When he goes back I'm sure he will be directing his intelligence chiefs and others to resume the meeting that was cancelled."   

    Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent outside the meeting venue, said both sides needed to get past the dispute to "frame the ongoing relationship" between the two countries.

    "Both sides realise that they need to cool the temperature ... because there has been a war of words over the last week or so."

    The Pakistani Taliban, which is loosely based in the tribal regions close to the
    Afghan border, was allegedly involved in the failed Times Square car bombing in New York and a suicide attack on a CIA base in December in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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