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Pakistan Arrests Cleric Who Brokered Swat Peace Deal

Pakistan has arrested a pro-Taliban cleric, Sufi Mohammad, for helping militants and undermining the government's anti-terrorism campaign in a northwestern region.

The hard-line Pakistani religious leader, Sufi Mohammad, went missing three months ago when the military launched a major offensive to flush out Taliban militants from the northwestern valley of Swat and several neighboring districts.

In February this year, Sufi Mohammad negotiated a peace deal with the government to end violence in and around Swat.

Under the controversial pact, the government agreed to the cleric's main demand of imposing Islamic law in the insurgency-hit districts. In exchange, Sufi Mohammad promised to persuade Taliban militants, led by his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, to lay down their arms.

The deal was widely seen as surrender to Taliban control of the valley, but it collapsed after militants refused to lay down arms and moved into neighboring districts to expand their influence. Pakistani authorities also blame Sufi Mohammad for encouraging terrorist forces through his statements, rather then telling them to end violence.

Speaking to reporters in Peshawar, Provincial Information Minister Iftikhar Hussain confirmed the police arrested Sufi Mohammad from a house on the outskirts of the city.

The minister says they have arrested the cleric because he was planning to incite violence in areas where security forces are wrapping up the anti-insurgency operations. He say the government plans to file a court case against Sufi Mohammad after conducting a detailed investigation into his extremist activities.

The Taliban advances in the northwestern districts early this year had raised questions about Pakistan's ability to rein in extremist forces. The United States had accused its close anti-terror ally of abdicating authority to the Taliban.

The criticism prompted the Pakistani government to order a major offensive in late April to regain control of the Swat and other insurgency hit districts. Army officials say that the anti-Taliban campaign has killed more than 1,800 militants and the United Nations says the offensive has dislocated nearly two million people from the insurgency hit areas.

Washington has praised the military operation and is leading the international relief assistance to rehabilitate the internal refugees.