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Peace agreement revived in North Waziristan

February 18, 2008

PESHAWAR, Feb 17: Authorities and tribal elders in the volatile North Waziristan have reached an agreement to revive a controversial peace deal which had brought the government under severe criticism for capitulating to the militants.

A grand jirga of 286 tribal elders from Dawar and Wazir sub-tribes of Utmanzai gathered at the agency headquarters in Miramshah on Sunday morning to discuss the future line of action following the expiry of a unilateral ceasefire by militants.

The ceasefire, first announced on Dec 17, was extended five times. It was due to expire on Feb 17.

Witnesses said that the grand jirga reached an agreement to revive the Sept 5, 2006, peace deal with the government.

The controversial agreement had drawn criticism, particularly from Washington which believed that it had allowed Al Qaeda to regroup in the militant tribal region.

Critics of the agreement said the government had capitulated to the militants by granting them major concessions without getting anything in return, particularly on key demands relating to the expulsion of foreign militants, an end to cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan and a pledge not to form a parallel government.

The government had withdrawn security forces from checkpoints, released militants and paid damages. But tribal elders said that the latest endorsement of the Sept 5 agreement was different on two counts.

Unlike the old agreement which had been signed by militants, the latest endorsement had come from 280-odd tribal elders who would also work to implement it in letter and spirit, instead of the old 45-member monitoring committee that had failed to oversee its implementation.

Also, they said, with the latest endorsement the terms of the agreement would extend to the whole of North Waziristan, including Miramshah and Mirali.

The old agreement held sway in Miramshah only, since a militant group led by Hafiz Gul Bahadar, had its influence limited to the regional headquarters only and had no control in Mirali, a sub-district, according to officials, was a hub of foreign militants.

A missile fired by a US drone in Mirali’s Khushali village on Jan 30 reportedly killed a senior Al Qaeda operative, Abu Laith Al-Libbi, besides a few other low-grade fighters of Middle Eastern origin.

Representatives of Hafiz Gul Bahadar were present at the Sunday grand jirga and endorsed its decision.

Local residents said the endorsement had brought relief to the people who were worried about the resumption of hostilities if talks had failed.

Army chief, Gen Parvaiz Ashfaq Kayani, visited Miramshah on Saturday and gave gallantry awards to officers and jawans.

Significantly, militants in North Waziristan remained neutral as security forces launched an operation in neighbouring South Waziristan against militants led by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud.

Local residents said that while Khasadars, a ragtag tribal police, man the check-posts now in North Waziristan, militants continue to patrol the streets, though without challenging the government authority.

On Sunday, the authorities imposed a Rs50 million penalty on tribes living in Darpakhel, Miramshah village and Borakhel Wazirs for causing damage to government property during clashes.

The government, however, has agreed to release some of the tribesmen in its custody and pay compensation to those whose properties have also been damaged by security forces.