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Waziristan Tribal Gathering Calls For An End To Airstrikes

Buildings damaged by airstrikes in Mir Ali, North Waziristan.
Buildings damaged by airstrikes in Mir Ali, North Waziristan.
Tribespeople have called for an end to military offensive following recent government airstrikes that allegedly killed scores of civilians in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas.

Thousands of young men and tribal leaders from North Waziristan's Wazir and Daur tribes called for peace in their restive homeland during a jirga or tribal council on May 27.

Ihsan Wali, an organizer of the gathering near North Waziristan's Mir Ali town, told Radio Mashaal that tribal leaders in the region had assured Islamabad of their support in curbing militants in an agreement in 2006. "In turn, they [Islamabad] had assured us that they will not harm civilians during security operations."

Wali, however, said that Pakistani airstrikes have harmed civilians since they began on May 21. "We condemn these airstrikes. We are calling for negotiations and will approach the prime minister [of Pakistan]," he said. "If our negotiations fail we will leave this region."

Haji Sher Muhammad, a leading tribal leader in North Waziristan, said his Wazir tribe wants to help in addressing Islamabad's security concerns in Waziristan.

"Basically we want to find a path towards lasting peace in our homeland. But we need to discuss this in formal negotiations with the government," he said.

"The animosity between India and Pakistan is six decades old but they are now talking peace," Muhammad added. "We in Waziristan hope that [Pakistan] won't treat us as foreigners."

Pakistani military claims to have killed some 80 militants in airstrikes across North Waziristan since May 21. But such figures could not be independently verified.

Scores of North Waziristan residents told Radio Mashaal that the airstrikes have mostly hit civilian homes and markets.

One resident of Mosaki, a village near Mir Ali, told Radio Mashaal that 30 members of an extended family were killed in an airstrike in their neighborhood during the early hours of May 21.

North Waziristan is seen as the main hideout for Pakistani Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Central Asian and Afghan extremists.

For years Islamabad resisted Western pressure to launch a major military offensive in the region because it sheltered the Haqqani Network, a radical Afghan Taliban faction, believed to be a close ally of the Pakistani military.

Hundreds of suspected U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan, however, have killed many senior extremist leaders since 2005.

More than 50,000 Pakistani civilians and soldiers have died in a decade of military operations and terrorist attacks in the restive northwestern tribal areas and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.