PESHAWAR, April 8: The government has asked the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam to help the local administration in its efforts to reduce tension in the volatile South Waziristan where security forces are likely to launch a fresh operation against foreign militants and their tribal protectors , a senior party leader said.

Senator Gul Naseeb Khan, the JUI's provincial general secretary, told Dawn here at a party-sponsored tribesmen-cum-ulema Jirga that the government had approached the party leadership to use its influence in calming the situation in the tribal agency.

The JUI, which enjoys support in the tribal belt running along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border had convened the jirga of ulema hailing from Fata to discuss the military operation in the troubled agency.

Asked whether his party had received a formal request from the president or the prime minister, he said: "Certainly, the matter has been discussed at the highest level, but I can't disclose the back-channel contacts."

The senator, a close aide of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said his party had urged the government to end the military operation forthwith and enter into a dialogue with the tribesmen.

Speaking at the jirga, the senator urged the JUI workers to play their role in bridging the distance between the army and the local population in South Waziristan. He asked the ulema to exercise restraint and "do not take decisions based on emotions".

He said the JUI would never support the presence of any unwanted elements who posed threat to national security. Earlier, giving details of the jirga at a press conference, JUI provincial chief Sheikh Amanullah, MNA, advised the government to involve tribal volunteers in the action against theunwanted elements, instead of sending troops to the area.

He said a peace convention was being organized for the party's tribal workers in Janikhel, Bannu, on April 15 to give them some guidelines regarding the peace process in the region.

Denouncing the use of military force in the recent Operation Kaloosha-II, he observed that the government had mishandled the issue and deliberately engaged soldiers in the operation against so-called foreign militants.

Reacting to a statement made by US ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, he denied the presence of any Al Qaeda fighter or 'high-value target' in the area. He said the tribal territory was not used against the Karzai government. He asked Islamabad to handle the situation in accordance with the tribal code of conduct in the agency.

The JUI leader demanded that the people affected by the military operation be paid compensation for the damage done to their property. According to the party's estimate, 17 civilians were killed, 29 wounded and 85 arrested in the operation. Some 1,400 families migrated due to intense artillery shelling.

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