Pakistan strikes peace deal with Taliban group

Qandhari tribemen gesture after their release from a jail in Peshawar, following dialogues for peace between the local Taliban and tribal elders. (REUTERS)

Pakistan has signed a peace deal with a small Taliban militant group in a region near the Afghan border, an official said on Wednesday. The accord was the latest in a series sought by the country’s new government as it tries to end extremist violence.

The deal includes a pledge from the militants led by Umar Khalid not to target security and government officials, said Syed Ahmad, a deputy administrator in the Mohmand tribal region.

Both sides also swapped prisoners, he said. He declined to give details about the number of prisoners exchanged, but said the militants had been holding some government officials.

“We started efforts for the peace agreement months ago, but we managed to sign it on Monday,” said Ahmad, who also noted the militants promised not to display weapons in the region.

A local tribal elder, Fazal Manan Kodakhel, said the deal enjoyed the backing of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of the umbrella Taliban movement in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s tribal regions are considered havens for Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

US officials have warned that peace deals with militants could be poorly enforced and allow Taliban and Al Qaeda militants time to regroup and execute more attacks in Afghanistan and plot terror strikes in the West.

The government is seeking a peace deal with Mehsud, who is based mainly in the South Waziristan tribal area. But in a recent, rare press conference, Mehsud said he would continue to send fighters to battle US forces in Afghanistan even as he seeks peace with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s new government is headed by the party of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and authorities have blamed Mehsud for her December 27 assassination. Mehsud has denied the allegation.

Also on Wednesday, a hand grenade apparently exploded inside a vehicle carrying militants in the nearby Bajur tribal region, killing four and wounding some others, said Idalat Khan, a government official. He said the wounded were being transported to a hospital.