Thu, Aug 17, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan arrests wounded Taliban fighters in hospital

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani police officers arrested 29 Taliban fighters in a private hospital in the southwestern town of Quetta on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry said.

The arrests came after growing pressure from NATO countries on the Pakistani government to do more to round up Taliban fighters and commanders, who, the local police say, rest and recover in Pakistan between bouts of fighting in Afghanistan.

Ten of the arrested Taliban fighters had been wounded in combat with NATO forces in Helmand Province in Afghanistan last week and the others were caring for them, said Chaudhry Mohammed Yacoub, the local police chief. He said they were all Afghans.

Two local commanders of the Taliban were among the arrested, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said.

Pakistan has twice rounded up Afghans in and around Quetta, most recently last month, but most were students at religious colleges or refugees rather than fighters, and many were later released.

The arrests on Tuesday, at the privately run Al Khair Hospital in downtown Quetta, were the first of wounded fighters, local journalists said. The Taliban had been there for two or three days when the police learned of their presence, the police chief said.

A Western diplomat in Pakistan said that while the threat from the Taliban remained mostly in Afghanistan, a significant element was based in Pakistan.

Asking not to be identified because his comments would upset the Pakistani government, he said the ease with which Taliban fighters cross into Pakistan to rest and recuperate was "very unhelpful."

There was definitely a level of command for the insurgency that was operating out of Quetta as well, he said.

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