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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 19:08 GMT
Pakistan offensive 'un-Islamic'
Tribal elders in South Waziristan
Efforts are continuing to negotiate with the militants
Opposition parties in Pakistan have condemned an ongoing military operation against suspected al-Qaeda sympathisers in South Waziristan.

In a heated debate in parliament on Thursday, they denounced the killing of Muslims as an "un-Islamic act."

They also alleged that innocent local tribesmen were being targeted.

Meanwhile there has been a relative lull in fighting near the town of Wana, where a large number of militants are thought to be holed up.


In hard-hitting speeches, six religious opposition parties accused the government of creating an "East Pakistan-like situation" in South Waziristan.

Military defeats in East Pakistan led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Pakistani border guard
Afghans entering Pakistan are subjected to heavy security

"The morale of our army has fallen and they are defeated even without a fight," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a spokesman for the alliance of six parties.

"Our army is fighting without hesitation under American command," he said.

Mr Ahmed warned that the country was entering a war that had no end, and that the whole country was in the grip of uncertainty.

The government denied accusations that local tribesmen were being targeted as "unfounded", and insisted that the operation was only directed against foreign militants who were using Pakistan as a base.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat said that the security forces were determined to root out all those responsible for acts of terrorism.

"This operation will continue until we eliminate all terrorists," he said. "It is not against Pakistanis but foreigners engaged in terrorism and those locals who give them shelter."

Deadline ignored

Mr Hayat said that at least 20 militants have been killed since the operation began early last week, and the bodies of 30 more militants were lying in the besieged area.

He did not say how many soldiers had been killed but the number is believed to be at least 30.

The battle, involving around 5,000 troops is the biggest Pakistan has waged in its semi-autonomous tribal areas, and comes after President Pervez Musharraf escaped two attempts on his life that were blamed on Islamic militants.

Earlier on Thursday, a deadline issued by Pakistan for a group of fighters to release 14 people they are holding near the Afghan border brought no response.

The hostages were captured at the start of the operation in South Waziristan and tribal elders trying to negotiate their release say that they need more time.

The BBC's Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says there seems to be a reluctance by the army to launch another full-scale offensive against the fighters following the stiff resistance they offered during earlier assaults.

Talks between the two sides are continuing through a delegation of 50 tribal elders made up of representatives from all the Federally Administered Tribal Areas - a largely autonomous region along the Afghan border.

Another group of around 20 tribesmen from North Waziristan also says it is playing a mediation role.

The lack of military activity in South Waziristan is in contrast to the heavy fighting in the area over the last 10 days.

The army says it has surrounded hundreds of suspected militants in mud-walled compounds, although officials believe some might have escaped.

It says that 163 captured suspects are being interrogated to determine their identities.

The Islamist coalition the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which is the main power in North West Frontier Province, is planning a national day of protest on Friday against the Wana operation.

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