WANA, Pakistan (AFP) – Warring tribesmen and foreign Al-Qaeda militants have agreed to a ceasefire after four days of bloodshed in a Pakistani border region that left up to 160 people dead, officials said Friday.
Islamic religious leaders mediated the ceasefire overnight in mountainous South Waziristan, where Uzbek and Chechen insurgents fought mortar and rocket battles with Taliban-sympathising local tribes, they said.
“There has been no fighting since last night in South Waziristan but fighters loyal to the rival factions are maintaining their positions on hilltops,” a local government source said.
“The ceasefire has been acheived because of the efforts of local mullahs,” he said.
Taliban militants, including one wanted for a series of deadly suicide bombings in Pakistani cities, had brought the two sides for negotiations on Thursday in the rugged region bordering Afghanistan.
Fierce fighting broke out on Monday after ex-Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, whom the government says has come over to its side, ordered followers of Uzbek militant Tahir Yuldashev to disarm.
The battles killed 130 Uzbek and Chechan militants and between 25 to 30 tribesmen, the governor of North West Frontier Province told a news conference in the provincial capital Peshawar.
Another 62 foreign fighters were arrested during the clashes, including Chechens, Uzbeks and other foreigners, Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai said.
But the local government source said the talks to return peace to the area went into a second session after Friday prayers after Nazir refused to withdraw his fighters unless foreign militants handover their weaponery.
“Nazir has taken a strong line and he is adament that Uzbeks disarm and hand over their weapons to the local tribal elders,” the source said.
Pakistani officials have said the battles show the success of Islamabad’s policy of encouraging conservative tribesmen in its border areas to drive out the militants themselves, instead of using the army.
The United States and other Western allies have repeatedly urged Pakistan to crack down on Islamic extremists in the mountainous tribal belt, saying that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were regrouping and building training camps there.
Governor Aurakzai said this week’s fighting had spread to a large area of South Waziristan and tribesmen were chasing foreigners who were hiding in the region.
“Local Waziristan people have risen against the foreigners in the region on their own. They have realised that their presence was causing trouble for the local population,” Aurakzai said.
Aurakzai, a former army general, said there were an estimated 500 foreigners in the area, including Uzbeks, Chechens and Arabs, according to tribesmen. Other recent estimates have been twice as high or more.
Yuldashev and his followers were among thousands of militants who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in late 2001 and sought refuge with ethnic Pashtun tribesmen in Pakistan’s lawless border zone.
The government has denied claims by local sources that it has covertly armed and financed the tribesmen and helped former “jihadi” fighters linked to insurgencies in Indian Kashmir and Afghanistan to infiltrate the area.