Taliban militants in a tribal region bordering Afghanistan said they have pulled out of a peace deal with the government, raising the prospect of wider unrest as the Pakistani army extends its efforts to eliminate insurgents.
The militants in North Waziristan blamed continuing US missile strikes and army offensives against the Taliban for their decision, which was announced in the wake of a Taliban ambush that killed 16 soldiers.
Government leaders and Taliban representatives reached the deal in February last year, but few details have been released about it.
US officials have criticized peace deals with militants or tribes representing them in the border region, saying they allow the insurgents to gain strength. The agreement in North Waziristan had appeared to keep things relatively peaceful there — calmer than in South Waziristan, where the army is preparing for a major offensive aimed at Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.
The deal was struck with a Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
“This accord is being scrapped because of Pakistan’s failure to stop the American drone attacks in North and South Waziristan,” Bahadur spokesman Ahmadullah Ahmadi said via telephone on Monday. “Since the army is attacking us in North and South Waziristan, we will also attack them.”
Various militant groups operate under the Taliban banner in Pakistan, but do not always see eye to eye. The ending of the peace deal could be a sign of greater unity in the face of a common enemy now that the Pakistani military has stepped up its operations against insurgents.
On Monday, army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the ambush was unprovoked and warned the government reserved the right to retaliate, specifically against tribes that harbor militants.
Abbas was not available for comment Tuesday about the scrapping of the deal.
The US has frequently launched missile strikes in North and South Waziristan, attacks US officials say have killed several top al-Qaeda fighters. Pakistan publicly protests the strikes as violations of its sovereignty, though many observers suspect the two countries have a secret deal allowing the strikes.
The Pakistani armed forces are gearing up for a major military offensive in South Waziristan, a hotbed for al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The region is the main base for Mehsud, who is blamed in numerous suicide attacks in the country and has been accused in the killing of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Troops also are pursuing an offensive in the northwest’s Swat Valley following the breaking down of a peace pact there.
The army says it has killed about 1,600 militants in Swat and surrounding districts in the past two months.