Pakistani Government Seeks to Salvage Peace Deal

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, July 16 -- The Pakistani government plans to try to salvage a controversial peace deal in the remote tribal zone North Waziristan, despite a decision by Taliban fighters to renounce it and declare war against the army, officials said Monday.

The Taliban has accused the government of violating terms of the 10-month-old deal by setting up checkpoints and carrying out operations against suspected insurgents. But government officials on Monday disputed that assertion and said they will continue to uphold their end of the agreement.

"I don't think our long-term strategy has changed," said State Information Minister Tariq Azim Khan.

He added that everything the government has done so far, including manning the checkpoints, was in keeping with its pledges.

The Taliban's decision to ditch the agreement came during a bloody weekend in which more than 70 people were killed, most of them members of the military or police. One of the attacks, a suicide strike in North Waziristan, killed at least 24 Pakistani troops.

There were no major attacks Monday, as top officials in the North-West Frontier Province hustled to put together an assembly aimed at persuading Taliban fighters and tribal elders not to abandon the truce.

The agreement was designed to curb cross-border strikes into Afghanistan by militant groups in North Waziristan, a remote and restive tribal area in northwestern Pakistan where groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda are active. Under the terms, tribal elders were supposed to keep local fighters in check; in return, the Pakistani military agreed to stay out of the way.

The deal has been widely criticized by security analysts and, more recently, U.S. officials, who say it has given al-Qaeda a new haven nearly six years after the group was forced to flee Afghanistan. Since the deal was signed, violence has surged in Afghanistan and the Taliban has imposed its rigid version of Islamic law on large swaths of Pakistan.

A top U.S. official on Sunday signaled Washington's disapproval of the deal, saying it hurts the ability of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to crack down on extremists. "It has not worked the way he wanted," national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said in an interview with ABC News. "It has not worked the way we wanted."

Musharraf has defended the agreement as the best way to exert influence over an area that historically has been ungovernable.

Khan said the government will press ahead with the agreement, even without U.S. support. "I think the Pakistani government knows more about the local, ground realities than people sitting thousands of miles away," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company