updated 9/5/2006 10:17:27 PM ET 2006-09-06T02:17:27

Pakistan's government and pro-Taliban militants on Tuesday signed a peace agreement aimed at ending five years of violent unrest in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Under the deal, the militants are to halt attacks on Pakistani forces in the semiautonomous North Waziristan region and stop crossing into nearby eastern Afghanistan to attack U.S. and Afghan forces, who are hunting al-Qaida and Taliban forces there.

Pakistani troops are to stop their hugely unpopular military campaign in the restive Pakistani region, in which more than 350 soldiers have died, along with hundreds of militants and scores of civilians.

Senior army officers and militants hugged and congratulated one other after signing the agreement at a school in Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan, where thousands of Pakistani troops were deployed following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

But the agreement, which one official said offers an "implicit amnesty" to foreign and local militants, highlights the Pakistani military's inability to crush a violent pro-Taliban insurgency on its own soil.

No alternative?
Pakistani forces had no alternative but to reconcile with the militants, whose knowledge of the terrain and determination to protect their region would have forced the conflict to continue, said Pakistani political analyst Rusul Basksh Rais.

"The military was not in a position to defeat the tribes," Rais said. "But Pakistan can't afford to -- and I believe won't -- let this area become a sanctuary for the terrorists, especially with the coalition forces on the other side of the border."

Under the pact -- signed by a militant leader, Azad Khan, and a government representative, Fakhr-e-Alam -- no militant in North Waziristan will shelter foreign militants.

Militants also will not target Pakistani government and security officials or pro-government tribal elders or journalists, North Waziristan lawmaker Maulana Nek Zaman said.

For almost five years, Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary forces have battled local tribesmen, many believed to be allied with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, in the fiercely independent mountain region where central government powers do not reach. Bin Laden is also believed to be hiding along the porous Pakistani-Afghan frontier.

"This is a good day for everyone," Zaman, the lawmaker, told a gathering of about 600 tribesmen, members of a council of tribal elders and senior army and government officers.

The agreement has been in the making since May, when militants first declared a temporary cease-fire in clashes, and military leaders began negotiating with militants while tribal elders served as mediators.

It came a day after Pakistan began recalling troops from security posts back to barracks in the region to meet a demand of the militants. Pakistan has also released 132 detained insurgents over recent months in a goodwill gesture aimed at winning back the confidence of tribespeople angered by military incursions into the region.

Shah Zaman Khan, spokesman for the North West Frontier Province's governor, said foreign militants who had taken part in attacks can remain in North Waziristan only if they abide by Tuesday's peace agreement in the region.

‘Obey Pakistani laws’
Pakistani security officials have said that Arab, Afghan and Central Asian militants allegedly linked with al-Qaida -- as well as area tribesmen suspected of ties with Afghanistan's radical Taliban militia -- operate in North Waziristan.

"If the foreigners want to live in North Waziristan, they will have to obey the Pakistani laws and stay away from militancy," he said.

A 10-member committee of tribal elders and Islamic clerics has been set up to ensure that the agreement is implemented, the statement said.

Pakistan's deployment of forces into North Waziristan after the Sept. 11 attacks was the first time soldiers had operated in the region since the Muslim country's 1947 creation.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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