Pakistan Truce Appears Defunct

By Griff Witte and Imtiaz Ali
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 16, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 15 -- A controversial peace deal between the Pakistani government and local tribal leaders in an area where al-Qaeda is known to be regrouping appeared to collapse Sunday, as tensions escalated and a fresh wave of bombings killed at least 44 people.

The 10-month-old deal in the restive region of North Waziristan was designed to curb cross-border attacks against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. But it has been widely criticized by security analysts and, lately, U.S. officials, who said it provided terrorist groups including the Taliban and al-Qaeda with a safe haven in which to train recruits and plot attacks.

On Sunday, local Taliban fighters proclaimed the deal dead and announced the start of an all-out guerrilla war against the Pakistani army. Pakistani officials stopped short of conceding the agreement's demise, but the military has been moving tens of thousands of troops toward troubled spots along the border in recent days, after the president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last week announced a new crackdown on extremism.

Military officials said the troops were being deployed in a bid to keep the peace following last week's raid on the Red Mosque in Islamabad. That effort appeared to be breaking down Sunday, as security forces continued to take heavy losses in a series of attacks that killed more than 70 people over the weekend. Most of those killed were soldiers or police.

The most recent attack occurred Sunday afternoon, when a suicide bomber targeted a room full of hundreds of police recruits taking an entrance exam in the city of Dera Ismail Khan. The blast killed at least 26 people and wounded 60, security officials said.

Earlier in the day, a military convoy in the Swat Valley was targeted by insurgents who unleashed two suicide bombers and a roadside bomb. Eighteen people were killed in those blasts, and 47 were wounded.

On Saturday, troops were attacked in North Waziristan, despite the peace deal, and at least 24 were killed. A purported spokesman for Taliban fighters said that the government had violated the terms of the deal by setting up checkpoints in the area. Residents of North Waziristan have also reported that the government has raided suspected militant hideouts.

The spokesman, Abdullah Farhan, said in a telephone interview that the group had given the government until Sunday to remove the checkpoints. When the government did not comply, the Taliban declared war, he said.

"We are ending the agreement today," said a statement circulated by the fighters in North Waziristan's district center, Miram Shah.

Pakistani government officials on Sunday accused the fighters of violating terms of the deal and said local leaders would be held responsible. They were vague about the deal's future.

When the agreement was signed in September, Musharraf touted it as a way to use local tribal influence to stem the tide of extremism in Pakistan. According to the terms of the deal, leaders in the area agreed to police their neighborhoods and prevent fighters from launching cross-border raids into Afghanistan. In return, the Pakistani military volunteered to withdraw troops to their barracks after five years of conflict in which hundreds of soldiers were killed.

As recently as this spring, government officials had been pointing to clashes between local militias and foreign fighters as evidence that the deal was working. The tribes, officials said, appeared to be banding together to oust Uzbeks, Chechens and other fighters who had been sheltered in the region.

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