In Pakistan, a fugitive militant commander linked to the al-Qaida network is said to have ordered his fighters to stop attacks on security forces and government installations in the country. The move follows reports the new government has renewed contacts with pro-Taliban militants in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan to seek a peace deal. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
Reports of contacts between Pakistani authorities and tribal militants have regularly appeared in local media in recent days, but few official details from either side were available.
For the first time Wednesday, leaflets containing orders from militant commander Baitullah Mehsud appeared in tribal areas along the Afghan border. He ordered his followers to stop all attacks in Pakistan.
In his message, the militant leader has confirmed peace talks are underway with authorities and has promised to punish anyone found violating his orders.
Pakistani officials have welcomed his cease-fire announcement, but are refusing to comment directly on reports of talks with the country's most wanted man.
Responding to the reported U.S criticism over the peace talks, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mohammed Sadiq reiterated at a news conference in Islamabad that the government is working on a "comprehensive strategy" to deal with the problem of militancy and terrorism.
"We believe that military action alone will not be effective in permanently ending the phenomenon of terrorism. We are reaching out to the tribal leaders and notables as part of the political element of our overall strategy in fight against terrorism ... Political engagement is possible only with those who renounce militancy and violence, do not allow the use of our territory against any other country and do not help foreign elements to find hideouts in our country," he said.
Taliban commander Mehsud is based in the Waziristan tribal region and is believed to be a facilitator of al-Qaida and Taliban militants launching cross-border attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan. He is accused of ordering the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and dozens of deadly suicide attacks on security forces in recent months.
Pakistan's new coalition government, led by Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party has promised to deal with rising Islamic militancy through dialogue and development.
Critics, including U.S. military commanders say Pakistan's previous peace deals with militants in its tribal regions only helped al-Qaida and Taliban extremists to re-group and intensify their attacks in Afghanistan. A top military commander of the international forces told reporters in Kabul the country could see higher levels of violence this year, with many Taliban attacks in eastern Afghanistan originating from across the Pakistani border.
Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities released Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the head of an outlawed Islamic group that illegally sent thousands of its followers to fight alongside the Taliban against the U.S-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.