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Talk of peace with Pakistan Taliban angers victims

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Hazratullah Khan, who lost his right leg below the knee in a car bombing, answers immediately when asked whether the Pakistani government should hold peace talks with Taliban leaders responsible for attacks like the one that maimed him.

"Hang them alive," said the 14-year-old, who survived the explosion on his way home from school. "Slice the flesh off their bodies and cut them into pieces. That's what they have been doing to us."

Khan, who is from the Khyber tribal region, pondered his future recently at a physical rehabilitation center in Peshawar.

"What was my crime that they made me disabled for the rest of my life?" he asked as he touched his severed limb.

In recent weeks, the Pakistani government and Taliban forces fighting in northwestern tribal areas have expressed an interest in peace talks to end the years-long conflict. An estimated 30,000 civilians and 4,000 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001 — many at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban.

To many victims of Taliban violence, the idea of negotiating with people responsible for so much human pain is abhorrent. Their voices, however, are rarely heard in Pakistan, a country where people have long been conflicted about whether the Taliban are enemies bent on destroying the state or fellow Muslims who should be welcomed back into the fold after years of fighting.

The push for peace talks gained momentum in December when the leader of the Pakistani Taliban offered to negotiate. The government responded positively, and even hinted that the militants would not need to lay down their weapons before talks could begin. That would be a reversal of the government's long-held position that any talks be preceded by a cease-fire.

So far, there have been few concrete developments, and it's unclear whether Pakistan's powerful military supports negotiations.

The biggest question — especially for many of the Taliban's victims — is whether the Taliban will have to pay any price for the people they are believed to have killed and wounded. The government hasn't said whether it would offer the Taliban amnesty for past offenses.

Confusion over who is responsible for the deadly violence also has some victims wondering if the Pakistani government makes peace with the Taliban, will it also make peace with other militant groups.

Will the government, for instance, hold talks with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a group linked to al-Qaida that is accused of killing more than 175 Shiite Muslims during the past two months in the southwestern city of Quetta?

Ghazanfar Ali lost his 24-year-old son in one of these attacks on Jan. 10 in Quetta. Another of his sons survived the same attack after three major surgeries.

Ali broke down in tears as he recalled sifting through rubble and identifying his son's body by the ring he had on his finger because his head and face were wounded beyond recognition.

"There can't be peace with the Taliban," he said. "They slaughter a son in front of his father and then chant 'God is great!' "

Talk of peace with Pakistan Taliban angers victims 02/23/13 [Last modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 10:22pm]
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