PESHAWAR, Sept 4: The government on Tuesday asked a tribal jirga to resume its efforts for freeing hundreds of soldiers held hostage by militants in the volatile South Waziristan region.
But while there are little indications of a change in the militants’ attitude, the government has summoned the administrator of the tribal region, Hussainzada Khan, to Islamabad for consultations, an official source told Dawn here.
A leading member of the jirga who had met militant commander Baituallah Mehsud told Dawn that the militants were sticking to their four demands for releasing the troops.
The main demand, according to the tribal figure, was withdrawal of troops from the Mehsud area of South Waziristan.
“The army has no business to be in the Mehsud territory,” Senator Maulana Salih Shah quoted Baitullah Mehsud as having said. “The Mehsud territory does not share borders with Afghanistan and if the army is here to stop cross-border infiltration it should move to the border and not stay in our area,” the militant commander had said.
Senator Salih said Baitullah Mehsud had no objection to troops’ movement but was opposed to their stay in the Mehsud territory. “He has no problems with the paramilitary Frontier Corps or the Khasadars or the political administration administering the tribal region through the Frontier Crimes Regulations, but he has serious problems with the military. He believes that the military is not aware of tribal customs and traditions and is the main cause of friction in the area,” he added.
He said the militant commander had also demanded release of over a dozen comrades held by the government on the charge of involvement in terrorist activities.
But, Senator Salih said, while the militant leader could be persuaded to drop other demands, there was little hope he would take back his main demand. “In a nutshell, he wants implementation of the February, 2005, Sararogha agreement. There is a lack of trust and it will have to be bridged by confidence-building measures.”
Senator Salih briefed Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Aurakzai at Governor’s House on his talks with Baituallah Mehsud.
He told Dawn that the governor had not given any indication if the militants’ demands would be accepted.
Meanwhile, the jirga led by tribal parliamentarian Maulana Merajuddin left for Luddah in South Waziristan to meet the militant commander.
Earlier, it was reported that the jirga was reluctant to resume its efforts, saying there was little it could do to end the deadlock.
The government is reported to have conveyed to Baituallah Mehsud that while it respects and will implement the Sararogha agreement in letter and spirit, it will not compromise on its authority to deploy troops.
Mr Hussainzada is expected to meet important figures in the government and the military in Islamabad and brief them on what needs to be done to help secure release of the soldiers.