Pakistan closing in on pact with militant's tribe
Saturday, 26 April 2008

REUTERS, PESHAWAR, Pakistan - Pakistan is close to clinching a peace pact with one of the most recalcitrant tribes in its lawless border regions to rein in a Taliban leader regarded as a cohort of al Qaeda.

Baitullah Mehsud hails from the Shahbikhel, a sub-tribe of the Mehsud, who with the Wazir represent the main tribes in Waziristan, the tribal region furthest from Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province.

Nullifying the threat posed by the semi-literate and barely 5-ft tall Mehsud, seen as one of the country's most dangerous militants, is a priority for Pakistan's new government.

His followers are believed to have played a central role in a campaign of violence, including a wave of suicide attacks, that engulfed Pakistan after the army stormed Islamabad's Red Mosque last July to crush an armed student movement.

"It's now a matter of days before we have an agreement. The talks are in a very advanced stage," a senior government official involved in the negotiations told Reuters.

The government is negotiating with the elders of the Mehsud tribe to pressure the thirty-something militant leader, who says he is compelled by his religion to fight to his death to drive foreign occupiers from tribal lands.

Pakistani officials in the last government, and CIA Director Michael Hayden, named Mehsud as prime suspect in the assassination of former prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December.

The new government, led by Bhutto's party, is not so sure about Mehsud's guilt, and is still holding out for a U.N. investigation.

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