Reports carried out by several newspapers said that Pakistan's new government has drafted a peace agreement with Taliban militants in its troubled tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, officials and a rebel spokesman said Wednesday.
The government launched talks with the rebels soon after winning elections in February. "Work is in progress swiftly on a new peace agreement with the Taliban Movement of Pakistan," a senior security official said, adding that "indirect negotiations" through tribal elders were ongoing. "The draft agreement contains clauses under which both sides will not take armed action against each other. Military will be withdrawn from certain areas, attacks on security forces will be stopped by militants," the official said.
The chief spokesman for the country's umbrella militant group Tehreek-e-Taliban (Taliban Movement) Pakistan, Maulvi Omar, confirmed to AFP by telephone that "our negotiations with government are going on. There is significant positive development, we have accepted most of each others' demands. In next few days we hope that a positive outcome is achieved," Omar said.
According to Dawn exclusive report, the government is close to an agreement with warring Mehsuds that seeks an end to militant activity, exchange of prisoners and gradual withdrawal of the military to restore peace to the volatile South Waziristan tribal region.
The 15-point draft agreement, seen by Dawn, has been thoroughly discussed and approved at the senior political leadership level in Islamabad and also enjoys the backing of the military establishment.
The interlocutors were given a final go-ahead following a meeting of top leaders of PPP, PML-N and ANP in Islamabad on April 15. The ANP chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, briefed his coalition partners on the subject and obtained their consent, sources said.
The matter has been thoroughly debated within the military establishment as well as the political leadership and a broad consensus has been achieved, according to knowledgeable sources.
One source said that Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, during a briefing on April 2, clearly told Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and heads of the ruling coalition parties that the military would take its cue from the political leadership on matters relating to internal security, including peace talks with militants and any military action.
According to the draft document, the peace agreement would be signed between the political administrator of South Waziristan, as representative of the government of Pakistan, and tribal elders as representatives of the Mehsud tribes in South Waziristan.
The draft agreement requires the Mehsud tribes to give an undertaking that government and security forces would not be targeted at all; their equipment and property would not be damaged; no military or government functionary would be kidnapped; all roads would be opened to the Frontier Corps in accordance with the old procedure and there would be no restriction on their movement.
Mehsud tribes would also be required to ensure that no terrorist activity takes place anywhere in Pakistan, including the tribal regions nor would they assist anyone in such an activity.
The Mehsuds would not use their soil for any anti-state activity nor would they allow anyone to do so, the draft agreement reads.
Mehsuds would also furnish an undertaking not to create any parallel administration; respect writ of the state; contact the political administration for resolution of their problems while the administration would decide matters in accordance with local 'riwaj' (customs) and the Frontier Crimes Regulation with the cooperation of local elders.
The draft agreement requires Mehsud tribes to expel all foreign militants from their territory and undertake not to give them shelter in future.
The document says that the expulsion of foreign militants would begin within one month of the signing of the agreement, but a month's extension could be granted if there are unavoidable reasons.
It also requires the Mehsuds to give an undertaking that they would assist the government and not create any hurdle in matters relating to the government and developmental schemes.
They would also hold responsibility for the protection of locals as well as foreign contractors working on developmental projects in the area.
According to the draft agreement, the political administration would work through the tribe concerned for verification and subsequent action if it comes to know about any militant training camp, including those involved in suicide bombings.
It gives the government the right to take action in accordance with 'riwaj' and the FCR if the tribe fails to take any action.
The draft agreement provides for exchange of prisoners soon after the signing of the agreement as confidence-building measure. The political administration would release all Mehsud tribesmen held under territorial responsibility clause of the FCR, while militants would release government hostages.
Mehsud tribesmen held without charge would also be released while the fate of those remaining would be discussed and those who could be legally released would be set free.
After the signing of the agreement, regular troops would be withdrawan from the Mehsud territory in a gradual/phased manner.
In case of violation, the political administration would have the right to take action in accordance with 'riwaj' and the FCR.
More significantly, the draft agreement stipulates that it would not be scrapped due to any external or internal pressure.
Sources privy to the behind-the-scene talks said that efforts were being made to replicate the agreement in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions and contacts in this regard had already been established.
"The response is very, very positive," these sources said while referring to a statement by a spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Maulavi Omar.
The TTP spokesman has acknowledged contacts and has said that militants are adhering to a unilateral ceasefire to allow these peace overtures to succeed.
One source however warned against over-optimism, saying it is a complicated and sensitive matter and both sides are proceeding with extreme caution.
"The draft agreement is ready but it is still being fine-tuned. It involves tough bargaining. By no means it's simple and easy."