Peshawar, Oct. 8 (Reuters): Pakistani forces detained 32 people today in a crackdown on a tribe accused of sheltering Taliban and al Qaida sympathisers, officials said.
Last week, the Pakistani military arrested 18 al Qaida and Taliban suspects and killed eight others after swooping on a hideout near the Afghan border town of Angor Adda in the South Waziristan tribal area.
Authorities are looking for three men they suspect of helping the al Qaida cell, and gave leaders of the small Zalikhel-Qarikhel tribe until yesterday night to hand them over.
When the deadline passed, paramilitary forces detained 32 members of the tribe, seized nearly 20 vehicles and sealed their shops to pressure them to give up the three suspects, Azam Khan, administrator of the area, said.
In talks with a tribal jirga (council) today he assured locals the suspects would not be handed over to the Americans and would be dealt with under Pakistani law inside the country. Talks were expected to continue tomorrow.
“We gave the tribesmen three days to hand over the culprits. The deadline has passed,” Syed Anwar Shah, deputy administrator of the town of Wana, said, hours before the crackdown started in several areas of the tribal rim bordering Afghanistan.
“The tribe has failed to surrender the culprits. They say the accused have gone into hiding,” Shah added.
Provincial authorities say the tribal leaders have violated an agreement reached with the government in May that they would deny sanctuary to “aliens”.
The laws which govern Pakistan’s tribal areas allow for tribes to be punished collectively if they fail to maintain law and order.
The military has already demolished the houses of the three wanted men in a village a few km from the border.
Local residents said last week’s operation near Angor Adda had created resentment among the fiercely independent, conservative and heavily armed tribesmen of the area.
“People here are not happy over the operation, the killing of Arab mujahideen and the arrest of local people”, a local journalist said.
Shah dismissed the resentment as “quite natural,” but said he did not expect any resistance to the crackdown.
Five visiting US senators praised Pakistan’s role in the fight against terrorism during talks with foreign minister Khursheed Kasuri, the foreign ministry said today.
The Republican senators met Kasuri late yesterday after they arrived here on a tour that will also take them to Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan and Turkey, a foreign ministry statement said.
The US lawmakers “commended Pakistan’s contribution as a key partner in the ongoing global war against terrorism,” the statement said.
The meeting also addressed US economic and security assistance to Pakistan and the situations in neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq, it said.
Led by senator Mitch McConnel, chairman of a sub-group of the senate’s appropriation committee, the delegation are due to call on President Pervez Musharraf.
The tour comes days after visits by US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, assistant secretary of state Christina Rocca and US central command chief General John Abizaid which focused on the US-led hunt for Taliban and al Qaida members.
Pakistan has captured some 500 al Qaida activists since late 2001.