A fresh peace deal between the Pakistani government and a major ethnic Pashtun tribe in the western Bajaur tribal region is being watched closely to see if it represents a breakthrough or an obstacle to restoring peace to a violence-ridden region.
Coming just weeks after a hotly debated cease-fire pact in nearby Swat Valley, the Bajaur agreement renews concerns that such peace deals could free up militants to fight the U.S. and NATO military surge in neighboring Afghanistan this summer.
Bajaur is rumored to be the hideout of senior Al-Qaeda leaders, and Pakistani forces have been fighting intense battles there since August to root out Islamist militants allied under the banner of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, a conglomeration of various Pakistani Taliban factions believed to be allied with Al-Qaeda.
Media reports indicate that more than 1,500 militants and dozens of soldiers have been killed in the fighting, while some 200,000 people have been displaced from their homes.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Peshawar, Najib Aamir, reports that the comprehensive 28-point agreement signed on March 9 compels the Mamund tribe -- Bajaur's largest -- to surrender key Taliban figures in the district, including its leader, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, and his deputy and spokesman, Maulvi Omar.
The Taliban reportedly have also agreed to lay down their arms and to disband militant groups and training camps.
Under the terms of the deal, the Taliban are obliged to shut down their FM radio station, and any violations of the accord empower local tribes to demolish the homes of offenders and demand roughly $13,000 fines from them.
Former Brigadier-General Mahmood Shah, now a Peshawar-based security analyst, was a central figure in Pakistan's first military operations against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the tribal areas in 2003 and 2004. He tells Radio Free Afghanistan that the deal follows a model of collective tribal agreements with the government that dates back to when the British were in the region in the 19th century.
"The Mamunds have agreed that they will not shelter any foreign [militants] in this region; even if foreigners show up in the region, the tribe will hand them over to the government," Shah says. "They also have to guarantee not to let the Taliban or other extremist groups operate in the region. So this is basically the renewal of some of the old agreements that the tribes had concluded with the government [in the past]."
Though Pakistani military operations in the region had been praised internationally, local tribal uprisings against the Taliban played a key role in strengthening the government's hand and appear to have forced militants to agree to its terms.
"It's the peoples' victory more than a military success," Major General Tariq Khan, head of military operations in Bajaur, told Pakistan's English-language newspaper "Dawn."
But Fazal ur Rahim Marwat, a political analyst in Peshawar, warns against attaching too many hopes to the peace agreement. He tells Radio Free Afghanistan that unless the government deals with the entrenched Taliban factions in the Waziristan tribal region, the prospects of peace in both Pakistan and Afghanistan will remain elusive.
"There are various [Taliban] factions and they have different aims and agendas in different regions," Marwat says. "But as long as the government doesn't deal with the factions headed by Baitullah Mehsud in the North and South Waziristan [tribal regions], it will be difficult to establish lasting peace both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan. [The authorities] should aim to disarm them by whatever means."
The agreement in Bajaur stipulates that no local or foreign militants will cross into neighboring Afghanistan. But past Pakistani agreements with the Taliban in the tribal regions were viewed internationally as efforts to appease the militants, and the new agreements in Bajaur and Swat have raised fresh concerns that it could allow militants to go to Afghanistan to fight U.S.-led forces.
Marwat speculates that unless the flow of militants into Afghanistan is stemmed and guarantees are in place that no NATO or U.S. forces across the border will be attacked, the peace agreements are likely to fall apart the way previous ones have.