The Pakistani government has agreed to withdraw troops and introduce Sharia law in the conflict-ravaged Swat valley in exchange for a halt to Taliban suicide bombings and attacks on government buildings.
The peace deal was signed this afternoon by the newly elected government of North-West Frontier province (NWFP) and representatives of extremist cleric Maulvi Fazlullah, whose fighters engaged in full-blooded warfare against the army last year.
The breakthrough is a coup for the government, which is eager to end militant violence, but will be warily regarded by the US, which advocates a strong hand against the Taliban.
The US deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, told senators in Washington yesterday that any agreement was "something we’re going to have to watch very carefully"…
The United States asked Pakistan to arrest and bring to justice a Taliban militant commander Islamabad was negotiating with to underline its commitment to the "war on terror."
The commander, Baitullah Mehsud, who has been accused by the CIA of masterminding the assassination in December of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, has been negotiating with the new Pakistan coalition government.
The government, led by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, has pledged to completely overhaul Islamabad’s counter terrorism pursuit after defeating US-backed President Pervez Musharraf’s political allies in February elections.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a congressional hearing Tuesday that Washington was concerned over the negotiations with the Taliban, whom US and NATO troops are fighting in neighboring Afghanistan.
He said Washington had repeatedly cautioned Islamabad about the talks despite a pledge from Gilani’s government not to give "free space" to the extremist group using remote tribal areas as safe haven to attack Afghanistan.
Asked by a lawmaker how Washington would gauge any counter terrorism success notched by Pakistan, Negroponte said "one of the metrics" was a lessening of cross border attacks into Afghanistan…