LANDI KOTAL, July 4: The operation launched last week against militant groups in Bara area of Khyber Agency was put on hold on Friday as a jirga met the chief of the banned Lashkar-i-Islam, Mangal Bagh, in Tirah Valley.

“The operation has been put on hold on the request of the tribal jirga. They wanted a truce in accordance with tribal customs in order to hold talks with the other side. We have selected targets and the operation will resume if the jirga fails,” an official told Dawn in Peshawar.

Mangal Bagh threatened to resist the troops if they continued to demolish the bases of his group. He conveyed the warning to the jirga comprising 16 tribal elders who had reached Tirah on Thursday to persuade him to accept the writ of the government and lay down arms.

However, he expressed readiness to hold talks with the political administration if the operation was stopped, sources said.

Jirga member Hashim Khan said it had returned with positive suggestions from the banned group’s Shoora. He expressed the hope that the operation would be stopped and the matter would be resolved through negotiations.

The jirga members reached Bara on Friday evening and would apprise Khyber Agency’s political agent of the outcome of talks on Saturday.

Its leader Haji Amal Gul has taken a pledge from his associates not to speak to the media before their meeting with the administration.

On the other hand, the Khyber Agency political administration announced that operation ‘Sirat-i-Mustaqeem’ would continue till the achievement of its objectives.

The Bara administration relaxed, from 8am to 5pm on Friday, the curfew which was imposed in the tehsil on Saturday when the operation was launched.

Security forces continued patrolling the main roads in and around Bara after taking control of all the checkpoints which were taken over by Lashkar’s activists about six weeks ago after the local Khasadars had abandoned them.

The Bara bazaar remained closed despite the relaxation in curfew because the group had ordered that Friday should be observed as weekly holiday.

A handout issued in Peshawar said that law-enforcement agencies, along with the political administration, were advancing as planned.

Announcing the curfew relaxation, it said the ban on display of weapons and the provisions of Section 38 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) would remain in force till further orders.

It said the law-enforcement agencies had unearthed two private sub-jails in Alam Gudar and Kohi.

Agencies add: The Fata media cell said 92 suspects had been arrested during the operation. No untoward incident was reported on Friday.

NWFP Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani told reporters that the government was serious about combating militancy and it planned to launch a crackdown in other parts of the province.

He said the Khyber operation was “going on successfully” and the government had a programme to effectively handle the law and order problem.

“I can say confidently that the targets we had laid down are gradually being achieved,” he said.

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