Pakistan troops to vacate Swat

Government signs agreement with Pakistani Taliban despite US and Afghan concerns.

    Pakistani officials have permitted sharia in Swat in return for assurances that attacks would stop [AFP]

    But Bashir Ahmed Bilour, Pakistan's senior provincial minister, said: "We hope this agreement will help bring peace in Swat."

    Ali Bakhsh, the pro-Taliban group's representative in the talks, said he was fully satisfied with the agreement.

    The 15-point plan was announced Wednesday after the latest in a series of negotiations between the two sides in the regional capital, Peshawar.

    Assurances given

    Authorities in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have already agreed to permit sharia, or Islamic law, in Swat in return for assurances that fighters led by Maulana Fazlullah, a pro-Taliban commander, will cease attacks, allow girls to go to school, and stop carrying weapons in public.

    Located about 90km from the Afghan border, Swat, which is tribal, though not a part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), had been the main tourist destination in NWFP until last year.

    Pro-Taliban fighters then launched a violent campaign to enforce Taliban-style law in the region.

    Fazlullah is the son-in-law of Sufi Mohammed, the head of the pro-Taliban Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Muhammad (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law) who was recently released from detention by the Pakistani authorities.

    Mohammed controls Malakand, which is the gateway to the Swat valley.

    Western worries

    Pakistan has cut peace deals in the past, but critics, including Western allies, have complained that these resulted in fighters regrouping and intensifying cross-border attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan.

    Speaking at a congressional hearing, John Negroponte, the US deputy secretary of state, voiced US worries.

    "Are we concerned about the possibility of negotiations between the government or elements of the government and these extremist groups up there? ... yes," he said on Tuesday.

    Pro-Taliban fighters have agreed to close
    training camps, hand over foreign fighters

    "I hope that they proceed cautiously and not accept an outcome that would give extremist elements the right, or the ability, to use the Fata with impunity to carry out attacks on Pakistan, and carry out attacks on Afghanistan or the United States or the rest of the world," Negroponte said.

    But Sherry Rehman, the government's information minister, insisted on Wednesday that the government was "negotiating with peaceful representative groups, not with terrorists".

    Sultan Ahmad Baheen, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman, said: "We believe any exclusive deal with the Taliban would result in worsening of the situation.

    "We believe any sort of agreement with the terrorists would harm both countries."

    Afghanistan have regularly referred to a now-defunct 2006 agreement between fighter groups and authorities in Pakistan's Waziristan area which led to an increase in attacks across the border.

    Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's foreign minister, said on Monday that Pakistan's policy of "appeasing" the Taliban was "wrong and dangerous".

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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