10/08/2008, 00.00
PAKISTAN - AFGHANISTAN
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Army responds to Pakistani parliament today about "war on terror"

by Qaiser Felix
There is great anticipation to learn the exact situation of a war that the new government wants to win in order to uproot to militant extremism. Meanwhile, Islamabad is expelling about 50,000 Afghan refugees, and Afghanistan is seeking peace with the Taliban of Mullah Omar.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - This evening, a joint session of the Pakistani national assembly and senate (it is only the third joint session in the parliament's history) will hear from leaders of the Pakistani army on the current situation and the operations underway in tribal areas, in the war against Islamic extremism.

Extraordinary security measures are in place around the chamber of the national assembly, with roadblocks and controls on all vehicles in the surrounding streets. The media are not admitted to the discussion, which will also address national security.

Fr. Bonnie Mendes, director of the center for human development, explains to AsiaNews that Pakistan is at a crucial juncture, because the war underway is also directed against part of its population, and the people are divided between the majority, which supports the government, and a strong component of Islamic extremists who are challenging it. "Whatever the parliament decides in today’s joint session," he explains, "the government seems to continue to fight against the militants who are spreading terrorism on the name of Islam." Fr. Medes is critical of the United States, which does not understand the geopolitical situation of the country and interferes in its domestic affairs, with continual statements that put it in difficulty. While former president Pervez Musharraf has acted prudently toward the extremists, especially in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), the current government is committed to wiping out this militant extremism.

In confirmation of this, today the government ordered the repatriation of about 50,000 Afghan refugees, who fled their country because of the war between the Taliban and the army, threatening the use of force. They are believed to have relationships with Taliban fighters, and to support them. The government wants to resume control of these territories, which for years have been open territory for the extremists. At least 45 Afghans have been arrested, and many of their shops have been closed.

Meanwhile, in the Swat region the local Taliban have blown up to private schools for girls, including the Sangota Public Girls school run by Carmelite sisters from Sri Lanka. The building was destroyed, but there were no victims, because the school had been closed for days following threats. In the NWFP, the Taliban have attempted to blow up more than 150 girl schools over two years.

Meanwhile, Afghan sources say that in September, during Ramadan in Mecca (Saudi Arabia), representatives of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, led by member of parliament Arif Noorzai, met with a Taliban delegation including Mullah Mohamed Tayeb Agha, a spokesman of Mullah OMar, and Mawlawi Abdul Kabir, a leading member of the Taliban council of ministers, for "negotiations" lasting three days. It appears that Taliban groups want to "distance themselves" from al Qaeda.

Both sides flatly deny this report. But one week ago, Karzai invited Mullah Omar to "peace talks," and asked Saudi Arabia to act as a mediator to conclude a war that has lasted for seven years, with at least 3,800 deaths in 2008 alone, one third of them among civilians. Saudi Arabia is one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban regime prior to the invasion of international troops in 2001.

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