A letter from an al-Qaeda-linked tribal warlord offering Pakistan a unilateral truce surfaced Thursday, a day after Pakistan’s newly elected government announced it had drafted a peace agreement with the country’s Taliban.
“The Pakistani state engaged numerous battles against the Taliban and has experienced many losses as a result,” Sahibzada Ateeq-ur-Rehman, head of the Paris Pakistani Press Club, told FRANCE 24. “What the government is doing is trying a new approach, using words.”
The letter, signed by Commander Baitullah Mehsud, whom many suspect of having plotted former Premier Benazir Bhutto’s death, has been circulating in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan. It urges pro-Taliban militants to halt attacks on the Pakistani army for the duration of the peace talks with the government.
The possibility of a ceasefire comes during a period of relative calm in Pakistan after a spate of suicide bombings in 2007 that killed more than 1,000 people, including Bhutto. The new Pakistani government aims to establish a permanent peace with the Taliban, after years of violence under President Pervez Musharraf, a strong US ally and supporter of the US-led “War on Terror.”
The draft peace agreement is Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s answer to the days of Musharraf’s rule, whose strong-arm tactics against the militants he says have backfired. The draft agreement is said to involve pledges by both sides not to take action, the withdrawal of troops from certain areas and an exchange of prisoners.
Pakistan's Taliban movement named Mehsud last year as its chieftain. Musharraf’s government and US officials have accused Mehsud of having ties to Osama bin Laden's Islamic extremist network, and of playing a role Bhutto’s assassination in December 2007. “For now, there is no formal proof of Mehsud’s responsibility in Bhutto’s murder,” said Atteeq-ur-Rehman on FRANCE 24. “We’re still waiting for a new report.”
The Pakistani military Thursday welcomed Mehsud’s offer. "Any cessation of hostilities is a welcome step," chief military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.
Afghanistan and the US wary of a Pakistan peace agreement with Taliban
Afghanistan and the US have expressed concerns about a peace deal between Pakistan and Taliban fighters.
Afghanistan claims that a bilateral deal will only hurt efforts to find a global solution to terrorism. "Past experiences have proved that such efforts will only result in those who make such efforts becoming the victims," said Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta.
Authorities in Kabul also worry that it might lead to a repeat of the failed September 2006 deal between Pakistan and pro-Taliban tribes in the semi-autonomous tribal regions of North Waziristan, which, they say, resulted in an increase in attacks in Afghanistan.
That deal was broken after Pakistani troops stormed Islamabad's Red Mosque to evict militants, leaving 100 dead.
Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq refused to comment on Mehsud's "reported" ceasefire, but defended the use of negotiations with militants to curb a wave of suicide bombings.
"We believe that military action alone will not be effective in permanently ending the phenomenon of terrorism," Sadiq told reporters, adding that the current strategy involved political, socio-economic and military elements.