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MENAFN - Arab News - 23/01/2014
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(MENAFN -Arab News) ISLAMABAD/QUETTA: A Pakistani cleric with close ties to the Taleban said Wednesday he would no longer act as a government-backed peace broker with the militants after airstrikes killed 40 people in a tribal district

Sami Ul Haq, who heads the hardline Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania seminary and is often referred to as the “Father of the Taleban,” was given the task of initiating peace talks with the Pakistani Taleban in December by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Sharif’s government announced its talks policy in September and began making preliminary contact with the Taleban’s leadership, but the initiative ended after a US drone strike killed then-Taleban leader Hakimullah Mehsud in November

“The government does not seems serious and concerned. I had requested them to avoid a military operation and use of force but yesterday it started bombing in North Waziristan and tribal areas,” Haq, who is also chief of his own faction of the religious Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S) party, said in a statement sent to AFP

The air strikes in the North Waziristan and Khyber tribal regions on Tuesday were retaliation for two major Taleban attacks on military targets in as many days

But Haq, whose seminary has awarded Afghan Taleban leader Mullah Omar an honorary doctorate, said more fighting was not the answer

“Both sides (Taleban and government) are in a state of war. Innocent citizens and soldiers are dying,” he said in the statement. “A military operation is not the answer: We should instead put all our passion into the process of talks

“In such a situation I want to separate myself from this bloody tragedy,” he added

Haq said Sharif sought his help in initiating peace talks and he received positive signals after contacting the Taleban leadership, but “the lack of seriousness on behalf of the government” forced him to quit the process

The two high-profile attacks on Sunday and Monday left at least 39 dead, marking a bloody return for the militants after a period of relative quiet following Mehsud’s death and the installation of hardline cleric Maulana Fazlullah as his replacement

Gunmen opened fire on Pakistani police escorting a Spanish cyclist through a volatile province bordering Iran on Wednesday, killing six officers and wounding the Spaniard, said officials

The attack on the cyclist, who had just arrived from Iran and whose blog said he was trying to cycle around the world, came one day after militants in the same region killed 28 people in a bus convoy of Muslims. One police officer said authorities suspected the same group carried out both attacks

The Spanish cyclist had arrived in the town of Dalbandin, about 350 km from Quetta, provincial capital of Baluchistan, on Tuesday evening after biking from the Iranian border, said the provincial Home Secretary, Asadur Rehman Gilani

Local authorities asked him to stay overnight out of concern for his safety and then arranged a police escort of more than a dozen officers to take him to Quetta on Wednesday morning, Gilani said

When they were in the Mastung district, about 70 km from Quetta, gunmen opened fire

Six policemen were killed, while the cyclist and another nine police officers were wounded, according to a police official Mohammed Ibrahim

The Spanish embassy in Islamabad did not return telephone calls seeking comment

The Home Secretary identified the Spaniard as Colorado Solana while the Spanish media identified him as Javier Colorado. A blog written by the Spaniard said he was cycling around the world and that he had been the victim of an attack in Pakistan

Tourists have been targeted in Baluchistan before. Gunmen last March kidnapped two female Czech tourists and their police guard as they were traveling on a bus from Iran to Quetta. The captives were taken to Afghanistan and the officer released but the women are still being held

No one claimed responsibility for the shooting Wednesday, but Ibrahim said he suspected the same group that targeted a group of Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran on Tuesday was responsible for the Wednesday incident as well

He described the group as “sectarian.” Radical Sunni Islamic militants who view Shiites as heretics have stepped up attacks against members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect in recent years. Over 400 Shiites were killed in 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. Violence has been especially bad in impoverished Baluchistan

Police initially said 20 people died when a bomb exploded near the pilgrims’ bus, but on Wednesday, a local police official, Asad Cheema, said the death toll had risen to 28. Some of the wounded were still listed in critical condition

Shiite Muslims rallied Wednesday in Quetta, demanding action to stop the continued violence against their sect. In a show of protest, they brought the coffins carrying the dead pilgrims into the street

“We will not bury our dear ones until the government acts against the attackers,” local Shiite leader Agha Dawood said

Militants also struck in the country’s northwest. A bomb rigged to a bicycle exploded next to a police patrol on its way to guard a polio vaccination team. Six officers were killed as well as a boy who was nearby, said officer Shafiullah Khan

Islamic militants have repeatedly targeted health workers carrying out anti-polio vaccinations and policemen who are supposed to protect them. In the last 24 hours alone ten people have been killed in connection with the anti-polio campaign

The blast happened in the Charsadda district, just outside the provincial capital of Peshawar. The bomb also wounded 11 people, four of them tribal policemen, Khan said

It was the second such attack in the past 24 hours. On Tuesday, gunmen killed three health workers in an attack on a polio vaccination team in the southern port city of Karachi

Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where the polio virus is still endemic, has seen relentless attacks on polio vaccination teams

Militants oppose vaccinations against polio and consider such campaigns a cover for spying against Pakistan and a conspiracy to allegedly make male Muslim children sterile

The vaccination campaign is also viewed with suspicion by many in Pakistan after a fake vaccination effort was used as a cover by the CIA in its pursuit of Osama bin Laden.


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