Pakistan works to save peace accord
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistani officials struggled Monday to salvage a peace deal meant to contain militants near the Afghan border and urged tribal elders to halt violence surging across the northwest.Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, long insisted the 10-month-old accord was key to ending extremism in the tribal region, although U.S. officials complained it provided the Taliban and al-Qaida with a safe haven.Pro-Taliban militants in the lawless North Waziristan region renounced the agreement amid weekend bombings and suicide attacks that killed more than 70 people across the northwest, most of them policemen and soldiers.The violence has added to the sense of crisis in Pakistan, challenging the ability of Musharraf to confront Islamic extremism as he faces a growing democracy movement ahead of year-end elections.Signed in September, the accord was a shift in strategy by Musharraf after the army lost hundreds of soldiers in operations against al-Qaida hideouts. Troops pulled back to barracks or to posts on the border in return for pledges from tribal leaders to expel foreign fighters and halt militant attacks in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.The deal was supposed to open the way for an extensive development program for which the U.S. pledged $750 million over the next five years and which Musharraf said would ultimately dry up support for militancy.Some U.S. military officers claimed cross-border attacks surged after the accord went into effect, and U.S. counterterrorism officials warned the deal allowed al-Qaida to step up training and planning, possibly for another Sept. 11-style attack in the West.White House spokesman Tony Snow called the agreement between tribal leaders and Pakistan a “carrot approach in the tribal areas” that “did not work.””It is clear that there has been activity there, including al-Qaida training,” Snow said. Musharraf “has been effective in using force against those who have been committing acts of terror, and we certainly hope it succeeds.”Akram Khan Durrani, the province’s top elected official, said Monday that a failure of the peace deal would have “dangerous consequences.”A delegation of government-backed tribal elders negotiated Monday with militant leaders in North Waziristan’s main town, Miran Shah, an intelligence official said.The militants were being urged to stick with the agreement and told the government would compensate people harmed by earlier military operations, the official said, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.The Foreign Ministry confirmed only that talks were in progress. “The peace agreement was not scuttled by the government. It remains in dialogue with the tribal elders,” ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said.Pakistani authorities were also looking into suspected links between the violence in the northwest and the battle at Islamabad’s Red Mosque, where more than 100 people died in an eight-day siege that ended last week with a commando attack on Islamic militants holding the compound.Officials suggested the mosque’s radical clerics had connections with militants in North Waziristan and in the Swat Valley farther north, where a hard-line cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, went into hiding over the weekend in the face of a security clampdown.The Red Mosque clerics and their student followers had pressed for Taliban-style rule in Pakistan and launched a vigilante campaign against vice in the capital.Some Pakistani analysts believe Musharraf remains reluctant to take on the militants for fear of fueling resentment among a conservative Muslim population widely skeptical of his close ties with Washington.The president also has faced a political uproar in recent months over this attempt to oust Pakistan’s chief justice for alleged misconduct. Government lawyers dropped two allegations against the judge Monday without explanation, but retained most of the charges.Critics accuse Musharraf of trying to engineer the removal of an independent-minded judge ahead of expected legal challenges to his continued rule.—Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad, Bashirullah Khan in Miran Shah and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.