Following weeks of negotations, [see most recent post on the talks], Pakistan’s coalition government signed a 15-point peace deal with “pro-Taliban” militants in Swat Valley on Wednesday. The announcement garnered media attention today, and the Associated Press deemed the development, “a breakthrough for a policy that Western officials worry could take the pressure off Taliban and Al Qaeda hardliners.” BBC News, in its coverage, reported that the provincial government in the NWFP agreed to pull troops out of the area “as the situation improves” and release prisoners, adding that authorities “say they will also allow the militants to impose Sharia law in Swat…” In return for the government concessions, the Associated Press noted, “Militants agreed to recognize the government’s authority, halt suicide and bomb attacks and hand over any foreign militants in the area.” They also reportedly agreed not to target girls’ schools, music shops and barbers, “all targets of the hardline militants who follow an interpretation of Islam echoing the 1996-2001 Taliban regime in Afghanistan,” the AFP reported. NWFP minister and committee member Wajid Ali Khan told the news agency today, “The agreement was signed today between the government committee and representatives of local Taliban. We are very positive that this agreement will end violence and ensure lasting peace in the region.”
The AP report underlined, “The deal is the first since a new government came to power promising to negotiate to end violence in the area.” However, the negotation process has faced opposition from U.S., British, and NATO officials, who have criticized previous Pakistan deals with militants, alleging they led to an increase in suicide attacks on international and Afghan troops across the border. On Tuesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said the United States had advised Pakistan “not to negotiate” with militants, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “We have real reservations about negotiated agreements with extremists…There is a lot at stake here and we have made the point repeatedly.” Dawn reported the U.S. official “also indicated that Islamabad did not consult Washington before making the new peace move as the U.S. learned about it from the media.” However, following these statements, Negroponte assured Pakistan’s leaders that the U.S. opposition to the proposed deal “should not be seen as a rejection of the country’s democratic set-up,” noting, “We are now working equally hard with Pakistan’s leaders, including the moderate Awami National Party which won elections in the NWFP, to explore how we can help the new government of Pakistan extend the authority of the Pakistani state to the tribal areas.” So far, a U.S. statement following the signing of today’s peace agreement has not been released.
The aforementioned peace deal is actually the second agreement initiated by the newly elected government this week. On Tuesday, following two days of bilateral talks, Pakistan signed an accord with neighbor and long-time rival India, “granting greater access to prisoners in each other’s jails,” reported the BBC today. The News quoted Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who said “there would be positive progress on Sir Creek and Siachin soon and detailed discussions were also held on ways to relax visa [restrictions] and ‘to improve the environment’ between India and Pakistan.” Although “talks are progressing on a constructive manner on the issue of Kashmir,” there are still many issues to be discussed, reported the Associated Press. A follow-up round of talks is scheduled to take place in July.
Despite daily reports on the constant obstacles facing the ruling coalition, [see today’s earlier post], it is both notable and somewhat refreshing that there can still be progress on other fronts, and that the issues facing Pakistan are not necessarily mutually exclusive. [Images from the BBC, AFP]