PESHAWAR, Feb 8: The government paid huge amounts of money to four of the five most-wanted militants in South Waziristan, who surrendered and signed peace deals with the authorities in November last year , to enable them to repay the debt they claimed they owed to Al Qaeda, sources told Dawn.

Payments were made as part of a package after the militants insisted that they needed to pay back a huge sum they had taken from Al Qaeda in their fight against Pakistani forces.

The sources said the payments were made from the secret service fund (SS Fund) and the four militant commanders were summoned to Peshawar for the purpose.

Two of them, Haji Sharif and Maulvi Abbas, received Rs15 million each, while Maulvi Javed Karmazkhel and Haji Mohammad Omar were each paid Rs1 million.

Maulvi Abdul Aziz, the fifth militant leader, who also signed the peace deal, was not part of the package and, therefore, did not get any amount. However, the sources said that Maulvi Aziz was now angry for being ignored and was reportedly pressing the other four militants to give him his share.

The payments to the Ahmadzai-Wazir tribal militants were made last month, while Haji Sharif received his share on Feb 4, the sources said.

"There were stacks of millions of notes of Rs1,000 denomination and these men walked away literally with a bagful of money," the sources added.

No receipts were given or signatures obtained as the payment was made from the SS Fund. It could not be confirmed whether the four militants really owed the money to Al Qaeda as they had claimed or pocketed the amount themselves.

Corps Commander of Peshawar, Lt-Gen Safdar Hussain, confirmed that the militants had initially sought Rs170 million to return the amount borrowed from Al Qaeda.

"At the start of negotiations, they asked for Rs170 million but later they reduced the figure to Rs50 million," the corps commander said while talking to a group of journalists.

"Since the deal involved money and I did not want to become part of it, I said the matter should be dealt with by NWFP Governor Iftikhar Hussain Shah. And I don't know what happened afterwards," he added.

The military commander also acknowledged having offered Rs20 million to another mujahideen commander, Baitullah Mehsud.

"Since I had that past episode in mind, I thought may be Baitullah Mehsud too owed money to some people and, therefore, I made the offer," he said.

The tribal militant who signed the peace deal on Monday had told the gathering on the occasion that he had declined the offer of money and asked the corps commander to use the money to compensate families who had suffered during the military operation.

During his talk with journalists, the corps commander hinted at troop pullout from South Waziristan as a result of peace deals reached with tribal militants. However, he made it clear that the authorities would wait until at least March to see how things developed in neighbouring Afghanistan in the wake of peace deals in the tribal region. "The two are inter-linked," he remarked.

He said he would wait until the snow started melting to see whether militants were abiding by the peace deals and not using the tribal region to carry out attacks in Afghanistan.

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