ISLAMABAD: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, has urged military action against the Taliban as the country debates how to respond to a surge in militant attacks.
Bhutto, the patron-in-chief of the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), told the BBC that Pakistan must “wake up” to the threat posed by militancy.
Pakistan, battling a homegrown Taliban insurgency since 2007, has endured a bloody start to the year with 110 people killed in attacks in January, according to an AFP tally.
At least 13 people were killed in a suicide bombing near army HQ in Rawalpindi on January 20. It came a day after 20 soldiers were killed when a bomb blast struck an army convoy in the north-west.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has been under fire for failing to make a strong response to the upsurge in violence. The government has for months said it favoured talks with the Taliban but Bilawal, 25, said he would only be willing to negotiate terms for the militants’ surrender.
“I think we’ve exhausted the option of talks. Dialogue is always an option but we have to have a position of strength,” he told the BBC.
“How do you talk from a position of strength? You have to beat them on the battlefield. They’re fighting us.”
“It’s not only confined to North Waziristan. They are attacking us in Karachi... We would like to eradicate the Taliban from Pakistan,” Bilawal said.
According to the BBC, most political parties including his own had agreed to pursue talks and that launching military action would be a risky option for the government, and for Bilawal.
Bilawal was speaking in the run-up to the launch of the Sindh Festival on February 1, a cultural event in his home province regarded as his first initiative to put his own personal stamp on his engagement with Pakistan.
Ministers held talks on Monday to discuss how to deal with the growing militant threat, nearly a week after air force jets bombarded suspected Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan tribal district.
North Waziristan is a major stronghold for groups linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and debate is raging about whether a full-scale military ground offensive should be launched to rid the area of militants once and for all.
The United States has long pressured Pakistan to do more to wipe out militant strongholds, saying insurgents were using rear bases in North Waziristan to mount attacks on US troops in Afghanistan.
Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007 after leaving a PPP campaign rally.
Bilawal told the BBC he thought the assassination of his mother in 2007 would “wake the country up” – but that politicians had wasted the consensus built up by his family, partly by believing that the United States should fight the Taliban for them.
He told the BBC he wanted to take on more responsibility in his Pakistan People’s Party, which was defeated in last year’s elections after five years in power.
“I never saw myself as being in politics,” he said.
“Now I think it is time for me or there is the opportunity for me to start taking on more responsibility. But I will be focused more on party politics and working with every level of the party – I don’t want to parachute my self in from the top. I want to work with the grassroots, with every level of the party across the country and my aim is the 2018 election.”
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet, who conducted the interview, says Bilawal appeared poised and confident as he took questions on everything from his suitability for politics, his party’s record, to allegations of corruption against his father, former President Asif Ali Zardari.
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