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Pakistani victims of Taliban violence feel forgotten

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Hazratullah Khan, who lost his right leg below the knee in a car bombing, answers immediately when asked whether the Pakistani government should hold peace talks with Taliban leaders responsible for attacks like the one that maimed him.

“Hang them alive,” said the 14-year-old, who survived the explosion on his way home from school. “Slice the flesh off their bodies and cut them into pieces. That's what they have been doing to us.”

Khan, who is from the Khyber tribal region, pondered his future recently in a physical rehabilitation center in Peshawar.

“What was my crime that they made me disabled for the rest of my life?” he asked as he touched his severed limb.

In recent weeks, the Pakistani government and Taliban forces fighting in northwestern tribal areas have expressed an interest in peace talks to end the years-long conflict. An estimated 30,000 civilians and 4,000 soldiers have died in terrorist attacks in Pakistan since Sept. 11, 2001 — many at the hands of the Pakistani Taliban.

To many victims of Taliban violence, the idea of negotiating with people responsible for so much human pain is abhorrent. Their voices, however, are rarely heard in Pakistan, a country where people have long been conflicted about whether the Taliban are enemies bent on destroying the state or fellow Muslims who should be welcomed back into the fold after years of fighting.

The Associated Press spoke with victims of terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and the tribal areas and their families to find out how they felt about negotiating peace with the Taliban.

Khan's classmate, Fatimeen Afridi, who was also wounded in the same bombing in Khyber, said he would be happy to see negotiations with the terrorists — but only after those who maimed him were punished. Afridi's left leg was amputated below the knee, shattering his dream of becoming a fast bowler on Pakistan's cricket team.

“If I find them, I will throw them in a burning clay oven,” he said.

The push for peace talks gained momentum in December when the leader of the Pakistani Taliban offered to negotiate. The government responded positively, and even hinted that the militants would not need to lay down their weapons before talks could begin. That would be a reversal of the government's long-held position that any talks be preceded by a cease-fire.

So far, there have been few concrete developments, and it's unclear whether Pakistan's powerful military supports negotiations.

Skeptics doubt the militants truly want peace and point to past agreements with the Taliban that fell apart after giving militants time to regroup. Others said negotiations are the only option because numerous military operations against the Taliban have failed.

The biggest question, especially for many of the Taliban's victims, is whether the Taliban will have to pay any price for the people they are believed to have killed and wounded.

Many of the victims feel forgotten, saying no one has asked their opinion about holding peace talks. They have to fight for what little health care they can obtain, and there's almost no assistance for dealing with psychological trauma caused by the attacks.

Dr. Mahboob-ur-Rehman runs a private medical complex in Peshawar, a large facility that houses a prosthetic workshop and a therapy school, where both Khan and Afridi are being treated.

Rehman said the Pakistani army has a state-of-the-art facility to treat its soldiers while there is little help for civilians. He estimated that about 10,000 civilians have been permanently disabled by losing limbs in Pakistani Taliban attacks.

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