Taliban scrap peace deal in Pakistan tribal area
MIR ALI, Pakistan - Taliban militants in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan say they have pulled out of a peace deal with the government, raising the prospect of wider unrest as the Pakistani army extends its efforts to eliminate insurgents.
The militants in North Waziristan blamed continuing U.S. missile strikes and army offensives against the Taliban for their decision, which was announced in the wake of a Taliban ambush that killed 16 soldiers.
Government leaders and Taliban representatives reached the deal in February 2008, but few details have been released about it.
U.S. officials have criticized peace deals with militants or tribes representing them in the border region, saying they allow the insurgents to gain strength. The agreement in North Waziristan had appeared to keep things relatively peaceful there - calmer than in neigboring South Waziristan, where the army is preparing for a major offensive aimed at Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
The deal was struck with a Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
"This accord is being scrapped because of Pakistan's failure to stop the American drone attacks in North and South Waziristan," Bahadur spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi told The Associated Press via phone Monday. "Since the army is attacking us in North and South Waziristan, we will also attack them."
Various militant groups operate under the Taliban banner in Pakistan, but do not always see eye to eye. The ending of the peace deal could be a sign of greater unity in the face of a common enemy now that the Pakistani military has stepped up its operations against insurgents.
On Monday, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the weekend ambush was unprovoked and warned the government reserved the right to retaliate, specifically against tribes that harbor militants. Abbas was not available for comment Tuesday about the scrapping of the deal.
The U.S. has frequently launched missile strikes in North and South Waziristan, attacks American officials say have killed several top al-Qaida fighters. Pakistan publicly protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, though many observers suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes.
Pakistan's armed forces are gearing up for a major military offensive in South Waziristan, a hotbed for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. The region is the main base for Mehsud, who is blamed in numerous suicide attacks in the country and has been accused in the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Troops also are pursuing an offensive in the northwest's Swat Valley following the breaking down of a peace pact there.
The army says it has killed around 1,600 militants in Swat and surrounding districts in the past two months.