Vol. 5 Num 1098 Tue. July 03, 2007  

Pakistan readies new plan to fight Taliban

President Pervez Musharraf held a special meeting with top Pakistani officials yesterday to discuss a new strategy to curb "Talibanisation" along the Afghan border, officials said.

The four-hour session came amid increasing concern that extremism is spreading not just in Pakistan's frontier regions but also to the cities, with a pro-Taliban mosque last week kidnapping several Chinese nationals.

Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led "war on terror", also faces international pressure to crack down on alleged insurgent enclaves being used to target Nato and US-led troops in Afghanistan.

"The meeting was to review the security situation, especially in the border areas, and to prepare a recommendation for a new security initiative to curb extremism and terrorism," a senior government official told AFP.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, the governor of North West Frontier Province, the vice chief of army staff and some ministers were among those attending the meeting at the presidency in Islamabad, the official said.

"President Musharraf presided over the meeting lasting four hours. He will give details of the plan when he addresses the nation later this week," the official said on condition of anonymity.

"The plan envisages reinforcement of security... and also establishment of peace committees in the region, that will entail involvement of local people," he added.

"The aim is to isolate foreign elements and their local allies."

In 2004 Pakistan launched a major operation to expel foreign Al-Qaeda-linked insurgents who fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and sheltered with Pakistani tribesmen.

Pakistan later began to negotiate peace deals involving the authorities, local tribes and local pro-Taliban militants which were designed to freeze out foreign rebels.

But attacks have continued. Pakistan has suffered around ten Taliban-linked suicide bombings this year, while Nato and US officials say cross-border offensives are up.

Beijing, Pakistan's closest ally, urged Pakistan last week to step up security after students from the radical Red Mosque in Islamabad briefly abducted seven Chinese from an acupuncture clinic.

The hardliners said the clinic was a brothel.