Pakistan militants linked to Al Qaeda have warned any incoming civilian government that they would strike even more viciously if President Pervez Musharraf’s war on terror was continued in tribal areas.
Following last week’s inconclusive election, several political parties are in talks to form a coalition big enough for a ruling majority in the National Assembly. How they deal with the militants will be one of their most pressing challenges.
Maulvi Omar, a spokesman for the Pakistan Taliban, said by telephone from an undisclosed location that any new operation against militants in tribal areas would lead to violence. “Whoever makes the government, we want to make it clear to them we don’t want fighting. We want peace, but if they impose war on us, we will not spare them,” he said.
“We don’t want political parties to repeat the mistake which Musharraf committed and follow a path dictated by the US”
Mr Musharraf, a key Washington ally in its war on terror, angered many Islamists by sending the army into tribal lands to flush out Pakistani militants and foreign Al Qaeda fighters hiding in the rugged and remote region, bordering Afghanistan.
Many Al Qaeda fighters and other militants fled to Pakistan’s tribal areas when US-led forces ousted the Taliban government in Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Islamist parties ruled the border areas of North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan and were the main opposition in the National Assembly for five years until being swept away in last week’s vote by liberal groups led by assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Ms Bhutto was murdered while leaving a rally on December 27, in a plot the Government has blamed on the Pakistan Taliban. Hundreds of people have died in suicide and other bomb attacks linked to the militants in the past few years.
The PPP and other parties have been critical of extremism and militants and vowed to fight them.
Omar said the warning against any new tribal operations was agreed during a meeting of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, an umbrella organisation of various militant groups.
He insisted no foreign militants were being given refuge in tribal areas and said the Pakistan Taliban were ready to help Government forces verify this for themselves.
“We can talk and give support,” he said.
The warning comes as leaders of various Pakistan parties continued haggling with each other and their party faithful to form a coalition able to make a majority in the National Assembly.
Provisional results have been announced for all but 10 seats, and the PPP leads with 87 followed by the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), otherwise known as the PML-N or Nawaz League, with 67.
The fate of Mr Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup in October 1999, could depend on what kind of coalition emerges, although his supporters, with 39 seats, could still have a say.
If the PPP and PML-N forge a coalition, as expected, it will be the first time in Pakistan’s history the two main parties have come together.
Both have said they want Mr Musharraf to quit and have previously suggested impeaching him if he refuses to go.