Monday, February 16, 2009

Taliban in Swat valley call 10-day ceasefire - Telegraph

Taliban fighters in north-west Pakistan's Swat valley called a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday after local officials agreed to enforce Islamic laws.
By Ben Farmer in Kabul

The ceasefire brought a pause in fighting between the Pakistani military and the Pakistani Taliban after more than a year of clashes that have left hundreds of civilians, militants and soldiers dead.

The region was once a popular holiday destination for Pakistanis escaping urban life. It is now subject to hardline Islamic laws after civic leaders bowed to intense Taliban pressure following a campaign of intimidation and bombings that has seen hundreds of schools close, and girls denied an education.

President Asif Zardari claimed yesterday that the Taliban had now established a foothold in "huge parts" of Pakistan.

In neighbouring Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that he is to send aides to Washington for a review of the "war on terror" as he fights to hold on to dwindling US political support.

The Afghan leader has admitted a "crisis" between his regime and America and said he had still not spoken to President Barack Obama nearly a month after the US leader's inauguration. But during a visit by Richard Holbrooke, the new US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Karzai said that he was "very, very thankful that President Obama has accepted the proposal of Afghanistan joining a strategic review of the war against terrorism".

Washington has accused Kabul of being detached from its people while President Karzai has angered his US backers with frequent public accusations that American forces have killed civilians.

However Mr Obama has now accepted a written request for Kabul to join a review into US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan that was announced last week.

The review stems from increasing US unease at how to quell growing Taliban-led insurgencies in both countries.

Pakistan, which its president says is in a "fight for survival" with Islamic militants, has already asked to join the review.

Kabul's delegation to Washington will be led by the foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.

Mr Holbrooke, who flew on to India, earlier met ministers, military commanders, MPs and foreign diplomats in Kabul and said his visit was to "reaffirm America's commitment" to the war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

International support has drained away from Mr Karzai, who was once the darling of the West and a key ally of Mr Bush, over his inability to curb corruption.

Before visiting Kabul, Mr Holbrooke spent four days in Pakistan.

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