Militant 'Did Not Murder Bhutto'
By Syed Shoaib Hasan
(BBC News) - A Pakistani Senator says [Pakistani-Pashtoon] leader Baitullah Mehsud was not involved in the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Islamabad and Washington have both blamedMr. Mehsud - who is based in the troubled region of South Waziristan[Pakistan] - for the assassination of Ms. Bhutto.
But [Mohammad] Saleh Shah [Qureshi], a [FATA] Senator who represents Waziristan, says Mr. Mehsud was not "in any way" involved.
Waziristan is now the scene of fighting between the Armyand [Pakistani-Pashtoons].
Military officials say that [Pakistani-Pashtoons] and security forces have been involved in heavy exchanges of fire overnight on Tuesday.
'No Foreign Fighters'
"Baitullah is not involved in Benazir's assassination in any way," Mr.Shah told the BBC [British Brodcasting Corporation].
"He has communicated this to me through his spokesman."
Mr. Shah also rejects recent [U.S. Central Intelligence Agency] CIA claims that Mr. Mehsud is involved with "Al-Qaeda".
"I don't know where these [false] stories come from - about foreign fighters in the area," he said.
"I have never seen any Arab or Uzbeks in the area."
The [illegal] government Pervez Musharraf, however, remains convinced and has stepped up operations in South Waziristan.
Mr. Shah says the military action has done more harm to the civilian population than the militants.
"The Army continues to fire at civilian targets, although the militants positions are quite distinct and removed," he says.
Mr. Shah says several civilians belonging to the Mehsud tribe havebeen taken into custody, and many people now have no option but to leave their homes.
"Ladha [one of Waziristan's main towns] is now deserted as the[unlawful] government has stopped all trade intothe area," he says.
"Hospital and schools have been closed down, and food supplies are running low.
"The Army has launched a blockade of the area for the last 10 days."
Mr. Shah says the government's failure to honour previous peace agreements has led to the current fighting.
He says the jirga, or tribal council, in this regard was held on Monday but has not yielded any results.
Ata ur Rahman, a local leader from the area, told the BBC: dialogue was the only hope of ending the fighting.
He said the militant leadership had no desire to fight the Pakistani Army, or the government. "Baitullah has said himself several times he has no quarrel with the Pakistan Army."
"Whatever he is doing is in self defence for the attacks against him and his men. For them, the main battle is in Afghanistan."