Bilawal calls on Taliban to respect statute

February 17, 2014 - 12:00:00 am
KARACHI: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, slammed the Taliban yesterday for trying to drag the country back to a “stone-age era”, as peace talks between the government and militants continued.

Addressing a gathering during the closing ceremony of a two-week cultural festival in his home province of Sindh, Bilawal also urged the country to rise up against militants’ threats.

“The Taliban want to impose the law of terror in the country, but I want to tell them, if you have to live in Pakistan you will have to follow its constitution,” he said.

“We don’t accept the law of terrorists,” he added. “Some people are trying to bring back the stone-age era in the country in the name of Islam.”

Landmark peace talks between the Pakistan government and the Taliban aimed at ending a seven-year insurgency continued into their second week but critics have voiced scepticism while a fresh wave of violent attacks has also undermined the discussions. 

Bilawal, who has spoken in favour of military action against the Taliban in the past, said he believed the talks were unlikely to bear fruit.

The Taliban’s demands include the nationwide imposition of Shariah and an end to US drone strikes, conditions the government and army are unlikely to be able to meet. 

“The terrorists should think of the time when the whole nation will stand against them,” Bilawal added Saturday in Makli, around 100km to the north of Karachi.

“We are Muslims and the terrorist groups should not try to teach us Islam.”

Referring to a former peace deal with militants in the Swat Valley in 2008 that resulted in the Taliban taking control of the region, Bilawal said the nation had experimented with peace talks in the past but they had “failed”. “We tried to negotiate peace with militants in Swat but we failed and we established writ of the state there through a military operation,” he said.

“Ask the nation’s daughters what terrorism means, will the nation’s daughters be treated like Malala?” he said, referring to Malala Yousafzai.

Malala, now 16, survived a Taliban assassination attempt in the country’s restive northwest in 2012 and has become a global champion for the struggle for all children to go to school.

The start of 2014 has seen a surge in militant violence with more than 130 people killed.

Negotiators for Pakistan’s government and the Taliban called for a ceasefire after meeting last week in the first round of talks aimed at ending the militants’ bloody seven-year insurgency.

Bilawal’s comments came as about 40 clerics gathered in Lahore Saturday for a meeting aimed at bolstering the confidence of religious leaders in the peace talks.

The meeting was chaired by Maulana Samiul Haq, chief of the Taliban negotiating committee who is known in the west as “father of Taliban”. 

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the clerics “appealed to both the government and Taliban militants to immediately announce a ceasefire and pursue negotiations to restore peace in Pakistan”. 

“Peace talks are the only viable solution...war can never bring peace,” said Haq, flanked by several other conservative religious leaders.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has been under fire from political opponents for failing to mount a strong response to the upsurge in attacks.

Former premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 by the Pakistani Taliban after leaving a campaign rally of her Pakistan People’s Party.