|Wednesday, 28 April 2004|
Pakistan denies backing down in war on terror
ISLAMABAD, Tuesday (AFP) Pakistan on Monday insisted it was still pursuing the war on terrorism, after an apparent retreat in its bid to capture hundreds of Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and their tribal protectors.
"There is no dilution in Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism," foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan told a weekly news briefing.
Pakistan on Saturday granted amnesty to the five chief militant tribesmen who have been protecting, supporting and fighting alongside at least 400 mainly Chechen and Uzbek Al-Qaeda-linked fighters.
"There has been reconciliation through mutual consultations, and...the war against terrorism will continue," Khan said. The deal was brokered to avoid a repeat of the bloody 12-day confrontation in March between government forces and tribal fighters harbouring the foreign and local extremists, but some Pakistani newspapers questioned whether it amounted to a surrender by the military.
"This smacks of a reversal for the government," the Daily Times said in an editorial titled "Who has surrendered?" The rebel tribesmen, led by former Taliban commander Nek Mohammad from the defiant Pashtun sub-tribe of Yargulkhels, were the target of the Pakistani army's largest-ever operation in the tribal areas last month.
The fighters they have been harbouring are believed to be involved in deadly cross-border attacks on aid workers, troops and government targets in Afghanistan.
US commanders leading 15,500 troops in a hunt for Al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants were unhappy with the deal, according to diplomats in Islamabad.
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