Pakistan vows no talks with terrorists

Pakistan vows no talks with terrorists
By Stephen Graham, Boston Globe; April 7, 2008

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Pakistan's new government will not negotiate with terrorist groups as part of its effort to pursue talks with Islamic militants, the foreign minister said Monday.

more stories like thisThe coalition government -- formed by foes of President Pervez Musharraf after sweeping parliamentary elections -- has vowed to review Pakistan's U.S.-backed policies on fighting al-Qaida and the Taliban. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has offered talks to militants ready to renounce violence.

But in remarks that could ease concern in the West that the new government will be softer on al-Qaida, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the offer of negotiations excludes groups that Pakistan considers terrorists.

"We will not negotiate with terrorists, but we will engage and we believe in political engagement," Qureshi said in an interview on Dawn News television. He offered no definition of terrorism.

Qureshi said a meeting with visiting British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on Monday was "very productive."

"On a lot of issues we're on the same page," he said.

Smith said she was sure the new administration "wants to do more" against terrorism. She said Britain will urgently consider ways to boost cooperation between the two nations, saying joint efforts already have helped prevent several terrorist attacks in Britain.

In a separate meeting, Gilani told Smith that Pakistan would follow a "multi-pronged" strategy against terrorism and extremism, his office said in a statement.

Gilani urged the international community to address what he called the root causes of terrorism, such as "unresolved political issues" and economic disparities.

He welcomed British development funds earmarked for Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border, where U.S. officials have suggested that al-Qaida and the Taliban are regrouping.

The parties of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and another former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, swept February elections amid voter concern that Musharraf's alliance with Washington had backfired on Pakistan, culminating in Bhutto's assassination in December.

The new government must also decide what to do with Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist disgraced for passing Pakistan's nuclear technology to other countries, including Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Khan has been confined mostly to his home since 2004, but he also enjoys national hero status for his key role in helping Pakistan become a nuclear-armed nation like its neighboring rival, India.

Qureshi said Khan's detention should be eased, citing his age of 71 and poor health. But the foreign minister stopped short of saying Khan should be released from house arrest or allowed to speak freely.

Khan is a "respected Pakistani" who should be allowed to see his friends, take a drive and visit restaurants, Qureshi said.

He also ruled out letting foreign investigators question Khan. Experts have said questions remain about the extent of Khan's dealings on the nuclear black market and whether other Pakistani leaders were involved.

"There is no question of handing over A.Q. Khan to anyone for any interrogation. Whatever had to be done has been done by the government of Pakistan," Qureshi said.

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