51 dead in Pakistani tribal clashes

October 13, 2008 11:33:33 AM PDT
Clashes between Taliban militants and pro-government forces killed 51 people as fighting spread across Pakistan's volatile northwest tribal regions along the Afghan border, officials said Monday.The army media center in the restive Swat valley said security forces traded fire with insurgents the whole day in the area. The clashes killed 25 militants and two members of the security forces.

Security forces fired mortar and artillery rounds at militants in the Charmang area of the Bajur region overnight, killing nine insurgents, government official Jamil Khan said. On Monday, pro-government tribesmen exchanged fire with militants in the Nawa and Kotkai areas of Bajur, tribal elder Nazi Jan said. Thirteen militants and two pro-government tribesmen were killed, he and Khan said.

A government offensive in Bajur that began in early August has left some 1,000 people dead. It was launched as the U.S. pressured the government to crack down on militants in the restive border region where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Pakistan's military operations have drawn praise from U.S.

officials worried about the escalating insurgency in Afghanistan.

Taliban and al-Qaida fighters are blamed for using the tribal regions in Pakistan as a staging ground for attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's secular, pro-Western government says it is trying to forge a national consensus on how to combat terrorism. However, many Pakistanis blame the violence on their country's support for U.S. policy in its pursuit of al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country's most powerful opposition leader, called Sunday for dialogue with militants, citing the example of the Northern Ireland peace process.

The government says it will negotiate only with groups that renounce violence.