Pakistan renews call for dialogue with some Taliban

Mon Jul 5, 2010 12:18pm EDT

* Spotlight on anti-militant campaign

* Focus on Afghanistan

* No army campaign in Punjab

(Recasts with call for dialogue, adds quotes from ministers)

By Kamran Haider

ISLAMABAD, July 5 (Reuters) - Pakistan's government, under fresh pressure to deliver stability after suicide bombers killed dozens last week, renewed its call on Monday for talks with Taliban militants ready to renounce violence.

At least 42 people were killed and 175 wounded when two suicide bombers struck Pakistan's most important Sufi shrine on Thursday night, the second major attack in a month on Pakistan's cultural hub and traditional seat of power Punjab province.

Speaking after a special high level meeting on law and order, Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said the government would welcome negotiations under the right conditions.

"One thing is very clear that they will have to accept the writ of the state and surrender before the government. Our doors are open for negotiations with those who will surrender before the government," he told reporters.

The Taliban has shown no sign it would enter negotiations since the military launched a series of crackdowns against the homegrown Taliban in April 2009.

The suicide attacks in the eastern city of Lahore last week raised new questions over the effectiveness of those operations.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani opened the law and order meeting by urging political parties and religious leaders to help the state and army fight militancy after the attacks and called for a national conference to formulate a strategy to combat terrorism.

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A new wave of domestic violence and deeper public discontent could distract Pakistan's government, which analysts say is busy manoeuvring to gain maximum leverage in Afghanistan if peace is negotiated, in order to counter enemy India's influence there.

Gilani was quoted in a statement from his office as saying the federal government could not handle the problem on its own.

"Beside the army and law enforcing agencies, the terrorism, sectarianism and ethnic divide need to be handled by the important pillars of the state including public representatives from all the political parties, religious leaders and civil society," he said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the shrine attack, but officials have blamed "Punjabi Taliban" -- a term used for militants drawn from the province who have ganged up with Taliban in the northwest and have also forged ties with al Qaeda -- for previous attacks in the province.

DANGEROUS ALLIANCES

It is those alliances that are most worrying for Pakistan, which says its military is stretched fighting the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest.

"The nexus between these three is a problem for Pakistan. All the past activities that had been investigated, there is an involvement of these three," Interior Minister Rehman Malik said at the press conference.

But he ruled out a military crackdown in the Punjab.

Militants may have been trying to whip up emotions by attacking sacred religious sites in a bid to destabilise Pakistan, a nuclear-armed, regional power that Washington sees as critical in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Last month, Pakistani Taliban attacked two Lahore mosques belonging to the Ahmadi minority group, killing more than 80 people and wounding more than 100.

The Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims, but many in Pakistan, including the government, do not.

Lahore's police chief said earlier six militants had been arrested over the past few weeks in connection with several attacks including the one on the Ahmadis. (Writing by Michael Georgy, editing by Jonathan Thatcher) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here)