Omar role in truce reinforces fears that Pakistan 'caved in' to Taliban
The fugitive Taliban commander Mullah Omar has emerged as the key player behind the movement's controversial peace deal with Pakistan.
The Taliban's one-eyed spiritual leader, who has a $10 million price on his head for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks, signed a letter explicitly endorsing the truce announced this month. The deal between the Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants in the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan was designed to end five years of bloodshed in the area.
In return for an end to the US-backed government campaign in Waziristan, the tribal leaders - who have harboured Taliban and al-Qaeda units for more than five years - agreed to halt attacks on Pakistani troops, more than 500 of whom have been killed. The deal has been widely criticised as over-generous, with no way to enforce the Taliban's promise not to enter Afghanistan to attack coalition troops.
The disclosure that Mullah Omar personally backed the deal will come as a fresh embarrassment to Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who met President Bush in Washington on Friday to discuss security in the region.
While officially a US ally in the war on terror, Pakistan has been repeatedly accused by Afghanistan of not doing enough to clear Taliban militants out of its border regions, allegations it denies. However, Mullah Omar clearly felt that the deal benefited the Taliban, adding force to criticisms that it was in effect a cave-in. Tribal elders in south Waziristan said that Mullah Omar had sent one of his most trusted and feared commanders, Mullah Dadullah, to ask local militants to sign the truce. Dadullah, a one-legged fighter known for his fondness for beheading his enemies, is believed to be the man leading the campaign in southern Afghanistan in which 18 British troops have been killed.
"Had they been not asked by Mullah Omar, none of them were willing to sign an agreement," said Lateef Afridi, a tribal elder and former national assembly member. "This is no peace agreement, it is accepting Taliban rule in Pakistan's territory."
Waziristan has a 50-mile border with Afghanistan's Paktika province, long a trouble spot for US and Afghan forces in their battle against al-Qaeda and Taliban renegades. It is home to three tiers of Islamists who operate freely. Of greatest security concern is the al-Qaeda element, followed by Afghani Taliban and then local Taliban.
In return for a reduction in the Pakistani army's 80,000-strong presence and the release of about 165 hardcore militants arrested for attacks on Pakistani armed forces, local Taliban agreed to stop supporting the foreign militants in their midst, and promised not to set up their own fundamentalist administrations.
The government also agreed to compensate tribal leaders for the loss of life and property, and to return all weapons and vehicles seized during army operations.
Critics say the deal is a dangerous climb-down by Gen Musharraf, who is under huge pressure from religious conservatives in his own country to curb his US-backed fight against militant Islam.
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