Pakistan's tribal areas harbour 8,000 foreign fighters: Report

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Islamabad, Jul 21 (UNI) In a disturbing report presented to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani days before he travels to the United States, the latest figure of foreign fighters present in Pakistani tribal areas is estimated to be more than 8,000 but the government is reluctant to officially confirm this number.

At a special cabinet briefing yesterday in which Asif Ali Zardari was also present, besides the Prime Minister, interior ministry chief Rehman Malik said the government will have to use force if the process of dialogue does not produce the results but his view was opposed by the minister from tribal regions Hamidullah Jan.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and his key ministers will visit Peshawar either today or tomorrow for a special meeting, which could decide the launching of a major operation against foreign fighters in tribal regions, The News quoted Rehman Malik as saying.

It would be a short and effective operation like the one in Bara region recently, officials said.

Information Minister Sherry Rehman expressed the determination of the government to pull the foreign fighters out.

Although officially the government of Pakistan accepts that foreign fighters are present, their unusually large number has set alarm bells ringing in Islamabad and possibly in other capitals as well.

Rehman Malik, however, conceded that the number of foreign fighters was about 1,000.

According to the report presented to the PM, a majority of these foreign fighters are living in North and South Waziristan and Bajaur. Prime Minister Gilani has also been informed that some foreign intelligence agencies are pushing their agents into the Pakistani tribal areas from Afghanistan under the cover of Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

These under-cover agents are trying to instigate the local population to fight against Pakistani forces as part of a "great game" in the region.

Taliban sources on the other hand are not ready to confirm that they are hosting thousands of foreign fighters in their areas.

They claim that the number of foreigners is just a few hundred and most of them are living in the tribal areas from the time when the American CIA and Pakistani ISI encouraged them to come and fight against the Soviet Union.

UNI XC NC RK0920

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