Pakistan has agreed to suspend military offensives and impose Islamic law in part of the restive northwest, making a gesture it hopes will help calm the Taliban insurgency while rejecting Washington's call for tougher measures against militants.
A U.S. defense official called the deal Monday "a negative development," and some Pakistani experts expressed skepticism the truce would decrease violence. One human rights activist said the accord was "a great surrender" to militants.
Monday's peace agreement applies to the Malakand region, which includes the former tourist destination of the Swat Valley, where extremists have gained sway by beheading people, burning girls schools and attacking security forces since a similar agreement broke down in August.
U.S. officials complained the earlier accord allowed militants to regroup and rearm and urged Pakistan's government to concentrate on military solutions to the insurgency in the rugged frontier region, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
The new agreement intensified that unease.
"It is hard to view this as anything other than a negative development," a senior Defense Department official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations with Pakistan and because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said later: "We have seen the press reports and are in touch with the government of Pakistan about the ongoing situation in Swat."
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
In another sign of the increasing power of the Taliban in Pakistan: