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Page last updated at 04:19 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Zardari rules out Taleban truce

Asaif Ali Zardari
Mr Zardari says Pakistan will not negotiate with militants

Pakistani President Asif Zardari has said Pakistan has not and will not negotiate with the "extremist Taleban and terrorists".

Mr Zardari said that the "clerics" with whom his government had engaged in Swat valley were not the Taleban.

Authorities and a key radical cleric recently agreed a deal that would bring Sharia law to the region in return for an end to Taleban militancy.

The scenic valley has long been blighted by militant violence.

The Taleban have also destroyed nearly 200 schools, most of them for girls, during a sustained campaign against secular education in Swat.

'Relentless'

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Mr Zardari said: "The clerics with whom we have engaged [in Swat] are not Taleban. Indeed, in our dialogue we'd made it clear that it is their responsibility to rein in and neutralise Taleban and other insurgents."

"If they do so and lay down their arms, this initiative will have succeeded for the people of Swat Valley. If not, our security forces will act accordingly."

Mr Zardari said that "this process of weaning reconcilable elements of an insurgency away from the irreconcilables has been mischaracterised in the West".

Mr Zardari said that Pakistan "will not condone" the closing of girls' schools in Swat.

"Indeed, the government insists that the education of young women is mandatory. This is not an example of the government condoning or capitulating to extremism - quite the opposite."

Local people fleeing Swat
Many people have fled Swat to be in safer parts of Pakistan
Mr Zardari said Pakistan's fight against terrorism is "relentless" and the ruling government had conducted a number of operations against militants.

Taleban insurgents in the troubled Swat valley of Pakistan announced an indefinite ceasefire following the deal with the authorities.

The situation in Swat remains tense and the militants are yet to disarm or end their hold over areas they control.

Swat has been the scene of bloody clashes between militants and government forces since November 2007.

More than 1,000 civilians have died in shelling by the army or from beheadings sanctioned by the Taleban. Thousands more have been displaced.

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