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Pakistani Governor Confirms Peace Deals With Tribal Leaders

The governor of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province has confirmed that Pakistan's federal government signed a peace agreement with about 300 tribal leaders in North Waziristan in January. The agreement, which has not been officially acknowledged before, is one of several controversial deals that have been blamed for worsening violence in neighboring Afghanistan. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Peshawar, Pakistan.

North Waziristan has long served as a hub for several Taliban militant groups as well as al-Qaida fighters. In 2007, the tribal agency was the scene of fierce battles between militant groups and Pakistani security forces.

But since January this year, North Waziristan has experienced relatively few clashes with Pakistani troops - leading to rumors that the government had signed a peace agreement.

Northwest Frontier Province Governor Owais Ghani is the top administrator of the adjoining tribal agencies. He confirmed to VOA the government signed a peace deal in North Waziristan on January 17th - and he says it is the only such deal the federal government has signed so far.

"The only agency where we have signed an agreement is in the North Waziristan agency, where over 300 tribal elders have signed," said Owais Ghani. "And like I said, this is between the tribes and the government of Pakistan."

Governor Ghani said the tribal elders pledged to prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, cease attacks on security forces and government installations, discourage militancy and expel foreign fighters. In return, the government promised socio-economic development.

Political leaders in the Northwest Frontier Province have signed similar agreements with other militant groups in northwest Pakistan, but the federal government says it has stayed out of the negotiations.

Ghani defended the Pakistan government's reliance on peace agreements, despite criticism from the Afghan government and NATO and U.S. commanders. He said the agreements are part of a broader strategy that also uses military force and economic development.

"The previous agreements were between the military and the militants - they were limited in scope and they were wrong," he said. "They were strategically wrong - that is why they did not work out. These agreements that we are conducting now are between the government of Pakistan and the tribal people. And this is based on the traditional relationship we have with them."

While Ghani says the peace agreement in North Waziristan appears to be working in reducing violence in Pakistan, NATO commanders in Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan's tribal regions have reported a 40 percent increase in attacks over the previous year.

Ghani blames Afghanistan's booming opium crop for undermining security throughout the region and funding militant groups that thrive in lawless zones of Afghanistan. He says Pakistan has offered to improve border security through fencing and mining remote border regions, but Afghan officials have refused.