Pakistan: Taliban leader pulls out of talks

Baitullah Mahsud, an al-Qaida ally who leads the Taliban in Pakistan, pulled out of a peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. Tribal elders in Pakistan’s South Waziristan region have been trying to broker the deal. Mehsud has been accused of masterminding a wave of suicide attacks that have rocked Pakistan since mid-2007, including one that killed former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (though Mehsud has denied involvement) in December. The peace talks were aimed at making permanent a five-week lull in a wave of suicide attacks that has killed more than 1,000 people in Pakistan since the start of 2007.

Mawlawi Omar, the group’s spokesman, said “hidden hands” in Pakistani intelligence agencies were acting under the influence of “foreign forces” to subvert the peace process. Pakistan’s new coalition government, led by the late Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has said it wants to open talks with the militants in a bid to break with the policies of President Pervez Musharraf. Mehsud declared a unilateral truce last week with security forces in the lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, after officials said the government had drafted a peace agreement with the group.The government has made pacts with the militants in Waziristan before. The deals led to a lull in fighting, but gave militants room to regroup and intensify cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

From Open Democracy Security Briefings, April 30

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