KHAR: Pakistani authorities and tribal elders signed a peace deal on Monday with pro-Taliban militants in a troubled region bordering Afghanistan, officials and witnesses said.
The deal was signed in Bajaur, one of Pakistan's seven federally administered tribal areas, where Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri escaped an airstrike in January 2006.
The tribesmen and militants agreed not to give foreign militants safe haven in the area or allow "subversive" activities, while the authorities pledged not to make arrests without consulting the elders, they said.
Pakistan signed peace pacts with pro-Taliban rebels in the South Waziristan area in 2005 and North Waziristan in 2006, although unlike the Bajaur deal those agreements involved the withdrawal of thousands of troops.
US and NATO officials in Afghanistan criticised the previous deals, saying they led to an increase in attacks on foreign troops.
"The local Taliban organisation has authorised me to sign this agreement and they have assured that they will not take part in any subversive activity," said Malik Abdul Aziz, the Taliban representative, after the signing.
The deal was signed during a tribal council, or grand jirga, attended by some 700 tribesmen, elders, clerics, MPs and local officials in Khar, the main town of Bajaur.
"The administration will not raid our places without any solid proof and withdraw warrants of arrests issued against our people on the basis of suspicion," Aziz said.
Chief of the local administration Shakil Qadir urged the tribal elders to help the authorities to maintain peace in the district.
"We need your cooperation to maintain peace and unity and keep an eye on the movement of suspicious people at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, so that enemies of our country fail in their designs to disrupt our peace," Qadir said.
A Pakistani interior ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that there was a "peace agreement between the political administration and tribal elders in Bajaur."
"The agreement is a result of a jirga (tribal council) that was convened in the area. Under the agreement tribal elders have pledged not to allow anyone in the area to harbour foreign militants and to expel them from the area," the official added.
"And the administration has assured them it will respect their customs."
Pro-Taliban militants recently torched video shops and banned barbers from shaving beards in Bajaur, fuelling concern about the "Talibanisation" of the already conservative area.
A military airstrike on an Islamic religious school in Bajaur, in October 2006, left 80 people dead. Officials said it was an Al-Qaeda training camp but locals said the victims were students.
Tribal elders were due to sign a peace agreement at the time but the pact was postponed because of the bombing. An alleged CIA missile strike in another part of Bajaur killed 18 people in January 2006. Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's Egyptian deputy leader, was said to have escaped the attack.
Pakistan has been waging a difficult campaign to drive out thousands of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in late 2001 and sheltered in the tribal areas.