ISLAMABAD – Hundreds of tribesmen from Pakistan’s semiautonomous regions near the Afghan border ended a rare tribal council meeting Saturday with a declaration calling for the army to crush the Taliban.

The meeting, held in the northwestern city of Peshawar, was called by an umbrella group of aid organizations and political parties in an effort to bring together people from the violence-battered region.

Participants called for the army to escalate its attack against the network of Islamist militants across the tribal regions, dismissing Pakistan’s earlier offensives as “military dramas.”

“It should be a genuine military operation like the Sri Lankans did against the Tamil Tigers,” said Sayd Alam Mehsud, a powerful tribal leader, referring to the brutal military campaign that destroyed the separatist Tamil army in Sri Lanka.

They also called for more power for traditional councils.

“If we strengthen these councils and make them more functional, I believe it will win us half of the war,” said one participant, Salar Amjad Ali, 34. “We, the Pashtuns, live for our culture and tradition and we die for it.”

Tribal councils – or “jirgas” – play a central role in the Pash-tun culture that dominates the region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

These often-lawless regions, havens for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters, have been the scene of bloody fighting and regular attacks by American drone aircraft as the Pakistani and U.S. governments try to defeat the Islamist militants. Smaller council meetings are used in tribal areas to decide matters ranging from local administration to criminal cases.

While Saturday’s meeting was not a formal jirga, it is rare to have so many tribal leaders gather together.

A declaration at the end of the meeting called democracy vital to rooting out terrorism, arguing that Pakistan’s powerful military – which many see as the true power behind the country’s elected government – should keep out of politics.

“A sapling of terrorism cannot grow in democracy. Any attempt to derail democracy is like letting the terrorists walk all over us,” the declaration said.

One organizer, Syed Alam Mehsud, said the meeting was a way to bring together people from the area that is suffering most in Islamabad’s war against the militants.

“We have just tried to unite people for the sake of peace,” he said.

Participants said they had little faith in the U.S.-Pakistan alliance, and that Washington and Islamabad were more worried about internal political issues than dealing with the social issues at the root of much of the violence.

“If we do not address the mindset of the terrorists, we will not be able to eliminate terrorists,” said Sayd Alam Mehsud.

The tribal leaders urged the government in Pakistan to reach out to the militants – but also to crush those unwilling to negotiate.

“We tribesmen are more patriotic than anybody else,” said one participant, Din Mohammad Khan, who had come South Waziristan, where a government offensive that began last fall is thought to have killed hundreds of people – militants and civilians.

“Pakistan is ours. We are for Pakistan,” he said.


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