- Afghanistan - Pakistan - Taliban
Pakistan's new government has drafted a peace agreement with Taliban militants in its troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.
The government launched talks with the Islamist rebels soon after winning elections in February, amid concerns that the military-orientated tactics of President Pervez Musharraf were spawning more violence.
"Work is in progress swiftly on a new peace agreement with the Taliban Movement of Pakistan," a senior Pakistani security official told AFP, adding that "indirect negotiations" through tribal elders were ongoing.
The aim of the deal is to transform a month-long lull in a wave of suicide bombings into a permanent peace with the rebels, who have fought the government since Islamabad dropped its support for the Taliban in 2001.
"The draft agreement contains clauses under which both sides will not take armed action against each other. Military will be withdrawn from certain areas, attacks on security forces will be stopped by militants," the official said.
The chief spokesman for the country's umbrella militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban (Taliban Movement) Pakistan, Maulvi Omar, confirmed to AFP by telephone that "our negotiations with government are going on."
"There is significant positive development, we have accepted most of each others' demands. In next few days we hope that a positive outcome is achieved," Omar said.
But Washington, which sees Musharraf as a key ally in its "war on terror" in the region, later Wednesday reacted coolly to any deal with the rebels.
"We are concerned about it and what we encourage them to do is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
Perino added she was unaware of any official announcement from Islamabad on a deal, but nevertheless said: "But in general, yes, we have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don't think that they work."
More than 1,000 people have been killed in suicide bombings since the start of last year, including former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at an election rally in December.
The government blamed her killing on Al-Qaeda-linked tribal warlord Baitullah Mehsud.
Dawn, a respected English-language daily, said the draft 15-point peace agreement also involves the exchange of prisoners and said it had the backing of senior political and military figures in Islamabad.
Authorities freed a senior pro-Taliban Pakistani militant, Sufi Mohammad, earlier this week after his banned hardline group, Tahreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi, pledged to renounce violence.
Taliban spokesman Omar said the agreement would apply to the semi-autonomous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and other troubled nearby regions including the once popular tourist area of Swat, he said.
"If our demands are accepted, then we will end our armed struggle and stop attacks against security forces, Taliban will remain peaceful," said Omar.
Meanwhile Wednesday a Pakistani border guard was killed and another wounded in friendly fire by Afghan forces after a rebel attack in which up to 10 Islamic militants also died, the Pakistani army said.
The clash happened where the lawless Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur adjoins the porous border between the two countries.