Breakthrough in Waziristan?

Dawn, August 23, 2006
Breakthrough in Waziristan
By Ismail Khan

PESHAWAR, Aug 22: The government and militants in the restive North Waziristan agency are close to signing a peace agreement on Friday, according to credible sources. “August 25 will be like a red-letter day; both sides are keen to sign the peace agreement on Friday”, the sources said.

Militants in the volatile tribal region confirmed the development but said that some details needed to be worked out. “We hope to be able to get the deal on Friday,” a militant said requesting not to be named.

Administrator of North Waziristan, Dr Fakhr-i-Alam and members of the inter-tribal grand jirga would be the signatories to the peace agreement, with the latter standing in for the militants, the sources said.

Incidentally, the unilaterally extended one-month ceasefire announced by militants also expires on Friday. Earlier, militants had indicated their willingness to extend the ceasefire for another two months to allow the tribal jirga more time to work out a settlement.

The negotiations are being kept secret to the extent that only a handful of government officials are actually in the loop. The jirga members have been sworn to keep the deliberations secret, while government officials say that NWFP Governor Lt-Gen (retd) Mohammad Ali Jan Aurakzai is keeping cards close to his chest.

Little details are, therefore, emerging from the negotiations being held between the militants and the tribal jirga but Mr Aurakzai had told Dawn last week that much headway had been made.

“We have covered a lot of ground,” he said and sounded optimistic that all issues, including that of the presence of foreign militants and cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan would be resolved amicably.”

To his advantage, unlike his predecessors’, Mr Aurakzai exercised control over the talks and the ironing out of modalities; leaving little margin for outside interference and influence, government officials said.

The government has met militants’ key demands, including release of their comrades, payment of compensation for losses to life and property, restoration of tribal perks and privileges and dismantling of some checkposts.

In a major policy concession, Mr Aurakzai announced on Aug 7 that foreign militants who preferred to stay in the tribal region could do so on valid guarantees from local tribesmen and on the condition that they would fully obey the law of the land.

This is a departure from the earlier government’s stand that foreigners must either leave or get themselves registered with the authorities.

The sources said that militants wanted another batch of over a dozen of their men released and the return of their weapons seized by security forces during various operations, demands the government was not likely to accept.

Additionally, the militants also want withdrawal of military, dismantling of their checkposts and their relocation to the forts in Miramshah and Mirali — regional and sub-regional headquarters of the troubled tribal region.

The sources said that while the government was keen to reach a settlement with militants to restore peace to the tribal region that had seen much violence over the past months, it would under no circumstances agree to the withdrawal of army from the region.

They said that the militants had been conveyed that message in no uncertain terms.


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