Archive for Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Tribes accused of harboring al-Qaida ready to negotiate

April 13, 2004


— A Pakistani army cordon tightening around their mud-brick compounds, leaders of a tribe along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border say they are desperate to avoid bloodshed as a deadline to turn over al-Qaida suspects rapidly draws near.

Four elders of the Jani Khel tribe told The Associated Press they were ready to negotiate with the military, although the leaders insisted they weren't harboring foreign terrorists and their mountainous land was too forbidding for the likes of Osama bin Laden and his men.

The elders descended the rugged peaks of Shawal, in North Waziristan, to meet with the AP this weekend and give their side of the conflict.

Clad in sandals, traditional tunics and starched yellow and white turbans, the elders all swore they would turn over any terrorists they found.

"The government has put a huge number of troops on our land, and they tell us they are searching for al-Qaida, but we want to make clear that there are no al-Qaida in Shawal," said Said Khan, one of 35 elders in the 30,000-strong Jani Khel tribe.

"If there are foreigners, we will turn them over. We cannot afford to punish all of our people to protect one or two outsiders."

The government has shown little confidence in the tribal leaders' pledges. North and South Waziristan areas are considered a possible hiding spot for bin Laden and his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahri, who have all but vanished since directing the 9-11 strikes against the United States.

Last week, 120 to 140 military vehicles and 4,000 to 6,000 troops moved into the Shawal region to put steel behind an April 20 deadline for the tribesmen to turn over terror suspects or face military action.

The ultimatum was given by the governor last week to tribal elders. The elders say they will get back to authorities before the deadline.

Brig. Mahmood Shah, chief of security for the tribal regions, said military action was a possibility.

"We prefer a political solution, but at the same time, the threat of force is there," he said.

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