ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A gang of Pakistani militants executed two alleged U.S. spies in front of thousands of cheering supporters Friday as a top U.N. official expressed fears that Pakistani government peace deals with the gunmen were sparking a wave of human rights abuses.
At least 5,000 people gathered by a stream in the Bajur region to watch the executions, which highlighted the power of local Taliban forces in the lawless tribal areas near the Afghan border.
Masked militants pulled the two blindfolded Afghans from a car and forced them to kneel on the ground.
Waliur Rehman, a local Taliban commander, told the crowd that the two men confessed to aiding in a suspected U.S. missile strike on a house in the border town of Damadola that killed 14 people last month. The men disclosed the names of others involved, and they would be killed as well, he said.
"Whoever, for the sake of money, for the sake of America, harms the interest of the Islamic world will meet the same fate," he said.
Gunmen with daggers then pounced on one of the men — identified as Jan Wali, 36 — decapitated him and waved his bloody head to the cheering crowd.
The militants then argued over how to kill the other man because he may have been a teenager, before one lost patience and shot him with an assault rifle.
The crowd erupted in cheers of "God is great!" and gunmen fired in the air in jubilation. The celebratory gunfire killed two bystanders and wounded six, local official Fazal Rabbi said.
The recently elected Pakistani government has supported negotiations that would give local tribes and militants broad authority over some tribal areas. The U.S. says those deals will only give Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in the border region more freedom to attack Afghanistan.
A deal has not yet been reached over Bajur, but the militants are clearly able to operate freely in the area.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said Friday she was concerned that the peace deals undermined state authority and left residents vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
"The government has the responsibility to ensure the protection of civilians," she told reporters in Islamabad.
Minorities and women were particularly in danger, she said.
Hours before Arbour spoke, suspected Taliban militants torched two girls schools in the Swat region, the latest in a string of attacks on the female education system in the area, police said.
The attack on the schools cast doubt on efforts to shore up the collapsing peace deal in Swat. Local government officials said talks Thursday with representatives of a pro-Taliban cleric were a success, however both sides acknowledged serious disagreements remained.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met with Arbour earlier Friday to discuss the human rights situation in the country.
A statement released by his office did not directly address her concerns about abuses in the tribal areas. However, he told her the U.S.-led war on terror had badly damaged Pakistan's economy and the country needed to take action, the statement said.
The government was talking with "the moderate elements who have laid down arms" and would resort to military force if the agreements were violated, he told her according to the statement.
He also assured Arbour he was committed to women's rights and to ensuring that girls have access to education, the statement said.
Arbour also expressed concerns about the human rights violations in the government's counterterrorism operations, including the disappearances of hundreds of people.
She also called on the ruling coalition to resolve its dispute over reinstating dozens of senior judges fired by President Pervez Musharraf last year, saying the crisis was paralyzing the government.