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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Pakistani Government Strikes New Truce Deal With Militants

By Barry Newhouse
10 July 2008

Pakistan's government has reached a new peace agreement aimed at stopping a militant group from threatening the northwestern city Peshawar. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad on the latest in a series of controversial agreements that critics say have mainly strengthened pro-Taliban fighters in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Government representatives released details of the agreement on Thursday, after tribal leaders agreed to guarantee that the local extremist group would leave a key town just outside the provincial capital Peshawar and stop hostilities against the government.

Tribal elder Malik Hashim was a member of the delegation and spoke to VOA by telephone from Khyber agency, where the talks took place.

He said the leader, Mangal Bagh, promised that his people will not attack official government offices or paramilitary forces in both the settled and rural areas of Khyber.

Pakistani paramilitary forces launched operations in Khyber in late June after locals complained bands of extremist fighters had moved into settled areas and began harassing people and enforcing strict moral codes. There were also increased sightings of Taliban militants in Peshawar during this time.

The paramilitary forces met little resistance but have since stayed in the region during the talks to provide security. The head of Pakistan's interior ministry, Rehman Malik, said Thursday that some of those troops would now begin leaving.

He said not all of the paramilitary forces will withdraw - those who remain will ensure the militants do not return.

Afghan, NATO and U.S. officials have been critical of similar peace agreements the Pakistani government has struck in recent months, saying withdrawing troops and striking peace deals have mainly allowed Taliban fighters safe refuge to launch attacks in Afghanistan.

Most of the concern has focused on militants in North and South Waziristan, where Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has vowed to launch attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. In Khyber agency, northeast of Waziristan, there has been concern over militants threatening an important overland transit route for commercial trade as well as supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

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