May 21, 2008 -- Pakistan's new government has signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants, in what some U.S. officials call a "victory for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda."
Under the terms of the 15-point plan, signed Wednesday in the city of Peshawar, the Pakistani army will withdraw thousands of troops deployed to the Swat Valley region, an area where officials believe local Taliban militants are hiding. The militants have promised to stop suicide bomb attacks and hand over any foreign militants, according to Bashir Bilour, a senior minister of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province.
"While the deal sounds good, it's likely to be implemented badly," said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former White House counterterrorism chief. "What this means is that the United States will continue to be threatened by an al Qaeda that has a safe haven where it can attract people from around the world, be trained and equipped and sent out to the United States and other countries around the world."
A Taliban spokesman, Muslim Khan, told ABCNews.com, "We accept the writ of the state and will no longer challenge it."
The peace deal in Swat could be followed by similar arrangements in tribal areas where al Qaeda fighters are known to operate.
Pakistani officials said they were "committed to implement the 15 points of the agreement as part of an effort to reduce the violence that has swept the province and spread to the country's major urban areas."
An earlier peace deal collapsed after militants continued to host al Qaeda fighters and launched attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan. U.S. officials continue to believe that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahri, operate from the contested areas.
"I doubt very much we are going to see bin Laden or Zawahri turned over to the Pakistani government or to the United States," said Clarke. "They are very popular in those tribal areas, and those tribal leaders are going to continue to provide them sanctuary."