Pakistan Government nears deal with FATA, NWFP militants: NYT

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Islamabad, Apr.25 : The Pakistan Government has said that it is close to reaching an agreement with most of the militant tribes in its turbulent border area to cease hostilities.

According to a New York Times report, the proposed accord essentially forbids tribes from engaging in illegal actions.

The deal would be signed between the political administrator of South Waziristan and the tribal elders of the Mehsud tribes there.

It would require the Mehsud tribes to cease attacks and stop kidnapping military and government officials, to open all roads and to allow freedom of movement to the Frontier Corps, the local security force. They would also promise not to carry out terrorist acts in Pakistan, including the tribal regions, and not to assist others in attacks, or allow their territory to be used for antistate activity.

The draft requires the Mehsuds to respect state authority and resolve any problems through the local political administration, which would respect local customs and cooperate with tribal elders. It also requires the Mehsuds to assist the government in development plans for the region.

It also requires the Mehsud tribes to expel all foreign militants from their territory and deny them shelter in the future. The document says that the expulsion of foreign militants would begin within one month of the signing of the agreement, but a month's extension could be granted for good reason.

There is no mention of ending cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

In return, both sides would exchange prisoners and the government would withdraw regular army troops from Mehsud territory in a gradual, phased manner, the document says. The draft also states that the agreement should not be scrapped because of any external or internal pressure, a reference presumably to American or other pressure.

The accord, it says has been negotiated by the government through tribal elders, and has resulted in militant leader Baitullah Mehsud ordering his fighters to cease hostilities in the tribal regions and the adjoining North-West Frontier Province.

American and Afghan officials have expressed scepticism about the deal, saying that the results of the past accords are there for all to see.

"We have seen the agreements they have made before, and they do not work," said one American official, referring to an agreement in North Waziristan in September 2006, which was blamed for the regrouping of militants and their surge in cross-border attacks against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

In Washington, the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said: "We are concerned about it. And what we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there."

Diplomats and Afghan officials suggested that the government was trying to show good will, while playing for time to bring stability.

The United States has consistently discouraged negotiations with militants.

Mehsud, perhaps Pakistan's most notorious militant, leads an umbrella group of the militants in the border areas, known as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or the Taliban Movement of Pakistan.

Farhatullah Babar, a spokesman for the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), called the cease-fire announcement by Mehsud a "welcome development," but said the negotiations were continuing.

"No deal has been finalized," he said by telephone.

Regarding Mehsud's alleged involvement in Benazir Bhutto's assassination, Babar said the "Pakistan Peoples Party had not named Baitullah Mehsud" as being responsible for her attack.

In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher said the United States viewed the negotiations as a tactic, acknowledging that it had been tried before by Musharraf.

According to officials, the go-ahead for the talks was given at an April 15 meeting in Islamabad of top leaders of the new coalition government.

A grand tribal jirga would be held to approve the agreement, which would be binding on all sides.

ANI

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