Pakistan says truce agreed with Taliban in Swat - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Pakistan says truce agreed with Taliban in Swat

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Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 8:41 pm | Updated: 1:35 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

MINGORA, Pakistan - Pakistan has agreed to an open-ended cease-fire with Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, government officials said Saturday, extending a truce as the country pursues broader, much-criticized talks aimed at calming a large swathe of its northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.

The Taliban leader in Swat, however, said the militants would only decide on whether to halt fighting for good after a 10-day cease-fire announced last Sunday expires - and that decision hinged on the government taking unspecified "practical steps."

The twists underscored the fragile nature of peace talks in Pakistan's northwest, where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have established strongholds. Past peace deals have collapsed, including one last year with militants in Swat that security officials said simply allowed the insurgents to regroup.

Also Saturday, a roadside bomb killed one person elsewhere in Pakistan's chaotic northwest along a supply route that is used heavily by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the mother of an American kidnapped in southwestern Pakistan issued the family's first public appeal for his release.

Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley have beheaded opponents, torched girls schools and terrorized the police to gain control of much of the one-time tourist haven, despite a lengthy military offensive. Hundreds have been killed and up to a third of the valley's 1.5 million residents have fled, making the government increasingly desperate to pacify the area.

In a talks with a hardline, Taliban-linked cleric, the government agreed Monday to impose Islamic law in Swat and surrounding areas if the extremists stop fighting. It also suspended the military offensive, though it did not pull out troops. The cleric, Sufi Muhammad, was dispatched to persuade the militants to agree to peace.

On Saturday, senior regional official Syed Muhammad Javed told reporters in Swat: "The government and the Taliban fighters have decided to observe a permanent cease-fire. The Taliban has agreed to it and so do we."

Area government official, Shaukat Yousufzai, confirmed that both sides agreed to extend the cease-fire but told the AP the talks between Muhammad's group and representatives of Swat Valley Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah - Muhammad's son-in-law - would proceed.

"Our representatives have listened to them, and they will listen to them if there is anything more they want to convey," he said.

Fazlullah said the Taliban still had to discuss the deal. "We will consult again after the 10-day cease-fire," he said in a radio address. "We will also observe a permanent cease-fire if the government takes practical steps."

Though he did not specify what those steps should be, Fazlullah urged Pakistan to enforce Islamic law in the area and create "an environment of confidence."

The U.S., NATO and Britain - as well as human rights activists - have voiced concerns about the talks, with NATO warning they could create a safe haven for Islamist extremists. Pakistan has deflected the criticism, saying they were merely responding to long-standing local demands for a more efficient justice system.

The legal changes they have publicly mentioned are technical, and do not involve the harsh interpretations of Islamic law adhered to by many Taliban, such as banning female education.

Al-Qaida and Taliban fighters hidden in sanctuaries in northwestern Pakistan have managed to strike at the Western military effort in Afghanistan without crossing the border, by attacking traffic along the main land supply route to the Khyber Pass.

The roadside bomb Saturday apparently targeted an oil tanker headed to NATO troops in Afghanistan, local government official Ameer Zada Khan said. The remote-controlled bomb killed one person and wounded two others near the Landi Kotal area, he said.

As Pakistan's overall security has deteriorated, foreigners have become popular targets.

United Nations official John Solecki was taken captive Feb. 2 in the southwest city of Quetta in Baluchistan province, and his kidnappers have threatened to kill him.

His 83-year-old mother, Rose Solecki, asked the people of Baluchistan for help in securing her son's freedom.

"I cannot begin to explain the sorrows and pain that I am going through right now," Solecki said in an audio message released through the U.N. "My husband and I are old. We want to be with John again."

Solecki's kidnappers have identified themselves as the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front, indicating they are linked with separatists, not Islamists.

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