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Pakistan Tries To Salvage Tribal Truce

The government sent tribal elders to meet with militant leaders in Pakistan's lawless northwest frontier Monday in an attempt to salvage a cease-fire renounced amid a series of suicide attacks and bombings, officials said.

Islamic militants at the weekend disavowed the 10-month-old agreement in North Waziristan and launched attacks that killed 73 people — most of them soldiers and police recruits.

The agreement struck last September between the government and tribal leaders, under which the Pakistani military was withdrawn from the area, was widely criticized by Western diplomats as a significant concession to militants, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari.

In return, pro-Taliban Pakistani tribesmen promised to stop people from entering Afghanistan to fight alongside militants waging war against Afghan and Western troops.

The truce had reduced violence in the region, but critics like the United States argued it only allowed extremists to grow stronger in the Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold — and plan more attacks on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan.

Akram Khan Durrani, the top elected official of North West Province, said that failure of the peace deal would have "dangerous consequences."

A delegation of government-backed tribal elders Monday negotiated with militant leaders in North Waziristan's main city of Miran Shah, an intelligence official said.

The militants were being urged to uphold the agreement and told that the government would compensate anyone who suffered from earlier military operations, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The Foreign Ministry confirmed that talks were in progress.

"The peace agreement was not scuttled by the government. It remains in dialogue with the tribal elders," said ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the government was also investigating whether the dramatic escalation of violence in the northwest was related to a raid on Islamabad's radical Red Mosque in which at least 100 people were killed.

Officials have suggested that the mosque's radical clerics had connections with militants in North Waziristan.

Clerics and students at the mosque and its adjoining religious school had pressed for Taliban-style rule in Pakistan and launched a vigilante, anti-vice campaign in the capital.

Information Minister Tariq Azim told The Associated Press on Monday he believes foreign fighters in the mosque were among the dead.

"Do you think they would have given themselves up? They were trained militants and they went down fighting," he said. An investigation was continuing to determine whether some among those captured are also foreigners, Azim said.

The attacks on Saturday and Sunday followed strident calls by extremists to avenge the government's bloody storming of the mosque and a declaration of jihad, or holy war, by at least one pro-Taliban cleric. Militants in North Waziristan also tore up a peace treaty with the government.

Termination of the pact, the hopeful handiwork of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, puts even greater pressure on the military leader as he struggles with both Islamic extremists and a gathering pro-democracy movement.

The U.S. national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, expressed support, but also criticized Musharraf's performance against militants.

"The action has at this point not been adequate, not effective," Hadley said. "He's doing more. We are urging him to do more, and we're providing our full support to what he's contemplating," Hadley told Fox News.

Asked if the attack on the mosque was done to appease Washington, Aslam said, "Absurd, ridiculous. It doesn't even deserve comment."

The United States said in March it would give Pakistan $750 million in economic development aid aimed at undercutting support for extremists in the northwest. However, it is unclear how the funds, which are to be released over five years, will be spent in a region where the government has little control.

Abdullah Farhad, a militant spokesman who announced the termination of the cease-fire, said Taliban leaders made the decision after the government failed to withdraw troops from checkpoints in North Waziristan. He also accused authorities of launching attacks and failing to compensate those harmed.

"Please God, may this peace agreement not be broken because it will have dangerous consequences. Peace came to the tribal areas and the entire country after this agreement," Durrani told a press conference in Peshawar.

Under the Sept. 5, 2006, truce, the Pakistan army pulled back to barracks tens of thousands of troops that had been involved in bloody operations against suspected Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts, and militants agreed to halt attacks in Pakistan and over the border against foreign troops in Afghanistan. Tribal elders were supposed to police the deal.

Musharraf had clung to the agreement and similar pacts in neighboring areas, arguing that, by empowering tribal leaders to police their own fiefdoms in return for development aid, they offered the only chance of bringing long-term stability.

However, critics have argued that Musharraf's decision to cut a deal effectively handed the Taliban and al Qaeda a safe haven from which to plot attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the West.

In recent days, the government has deployed thousands of troops to restive areas of the northwest in recent days in hopes of stemming a backlash from the mosque raid.

Since the mosque siege began July 3, 105 people have died in militant attacks, almost all of them in the northwest, according to an Associated Press count compiled from official sources. Among them were 72 members of the security forces.