Pakistan Bolstering Forces in Northwest

By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 19, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 18 -- Pakistan's military said Sunday it was dispatching forces to quell fighting in the country's volatile northwest after three days of clashes between rival Sunni and Shiite Muslims left 91 people dead.

Military officials said an unspecified number of soldiers and a paramilitary force were headed to the town of Parachinar, in the remote Kurram tribal area, where the government maintains limited control.

Both sides fired mortars and other heavy weapons at each other, targeting residential areas and hitting mosques, an intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Associated Press.

Violence between Shiites and Sunnis is common in Parachinar. In the spring, 50 people were killed after clashes led to an attack on a Shiite mosque.

More than 1,000 security forces, civilians and fighters have been killed in the past five months in Pakistan. Much of the violence has occurred in the Swat Valley, an area in North-West Frontier Province once known to tourists as the Switzerland of South Asia.

Pakistani army officials said government forces killed 100 fighters loyal to a pro-Taliban cleric in three days of fierce battles in the northern Swat Valley. Forces loyal to the cleric had been gaining ground in recent weeks, capturing several towns in the valley. In the adjacent Shangla district, they have seized government buildings with little resistance from security forces.

Also Sunday, a bomb exploded on a railway line as a passenger train was moving through near Peshawar, capital of North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan. One passenger was killed.

The violence came during Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte's visit to Pakistan to encourage embattled President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency rule, which he declared Nov. 3. The decree has resulted in the arrests of thousands of political opponents, the firing of Supreme Court judges and the shuttering of independent television stations.

At a news conference early Sunday, Negroponte praised Musharraf's efforts in the fight against terrorism, saying the recent violence was "yet another reason to be concerned about the situation in Pakistan."

But Negroponte also said he told Musharraf that the emergency law needed to be lifted and political prisoners released to ensure legitimate parliamentary elections in January.

[Musharraf has recommended the Election Commission call for a parliamentary election to be held Jan. 8, Reuters news service reported Monday.]

Musharraf aides said he told Negroponte that the emergency would not be lifted because of "the ground realities in our security situation in Pakistan."

The United States has increasingly found Musharraf to be a liability since his declaration of emergency rule. But Negroponte said the two governments were still friendly.

"In diplomacy, as you know, we don't get instant replies when we have these kinds of dialogue," he said. "I'm sure the president is seriously considering the exchange we had."

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