The agreement announced recently between the Pakistani government and representatives of the Taliban Council in North Waziristan appears on the surface to be an equitable arrangement that addresses the serious problems of Taliban and al-Qaeda incursions across the border into Afghanistan to fight NATO troops as well as bringing an end to the fighting between Pakistani forces and the fierce, independent tribesman in the region.
Indeed, most accounts of the deal in the western press highlighted the fact that the agreement would prevent al-Qaeda and the Taliban from using North Waziristan as a safe haven for their fighters in Afghanistan. President Musharraf, in a meeting with Afghan President Karzai yesterday boasted that the treaty was a boon to the embattled Afghanistan government.
“No militant activity, no training activity, they have accepted this,” General Musharraf said. “This is the bottom line of the peace agreement.”
Western analysts however, have taken a much more alarming view of the treaty. Counterterrorism experts have called it a “surrender.” Some aspects of the treaty are clearly unenforceable. And judging by previous agreements made with the Taliban, this deal is also likely to be honored in the breach.
Bill Roggio sums up the agreement and grimly analyzes the fallout:
• The Pakistani Army is abandoning its garrisons in North and South Waziristan.
• The Pakistani Military will not operate in North Waziristan, nor will it monitor actions the region.
• Pakistan will turn over weapons and other equipment seized during Pakistani Army operations.
• The Taliban and al-Qaeda have set up a Mujahideen Shura (or council) to administer the agency.
• The truce refers to the region as “The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.”
• An unknown quantity of money was transferred from Pakistani government coffers to the Taliban. The Pakistani government has essentially paid a tribute or ransom to end the fighting.
• “Foreigners” (a euphemism for al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadis) are allowed to remain in the region.
• Over 130 mid-level al-Qaeda commanders and foot soldiers were released from Pakistani custody.
• The Taliban is required to refrain from violence in Pakistan only; the agreement does not stipulate refraining from violence in Afghanistan.
In effect, the Taliban has carved out an independent enclave in “The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan,” a safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorists, and a base of operations secure from interference by the Pakistani military to better carry out their murderous raids across the border into Afghanistan. They have already established their own harsh brand of Sharia law in the area and allowed training camps for various extremist groups to be set up. And most importantly, they have humiliated the government and weakened Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power.
More ominously, another country now has a terrorist state within a state operating virtually free of the control of the central government but with one potentially catastrophic difference:
This nation has at least 60 nuclear weapons that could potentially fall into the hands of Islamic extremists.
The American government is not happy with the agreement and understandably so. Shockingly, Secretary of State Rice was briefed on the outlines of the deal back in June when she visited Pakistan. Although it is unclear how much President Musharraf was forced to concede in the interim, this deal is similar to a treaty signed with another Taliban group in South Waziristan last February. In response, the Taliban pulled up stakes and moved into North Waziristan. A similar move into other nearby tribal regions including Bajaur and Tank is probably in the offing.
What the Taliban leaves behind is infrastructure including training camps, hospitals, and safe havens for fighters fleeing NATO forces in Afghanistan. There will also almost certainly be continued infliltration into Afghanistan by small groups of Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda terrorists.
And lest anyone be under the impression that the withdrawal of Pakistani forces greenlights NATO troops for cross-border “hot pursuit,” President Musharraf made it clear yesterday that such operations would not be tolerated:
“On our side of the border there will be a total uprising if a foreigner enters that area,” he said. “It’s not possible at all, we will never allow any foreigners into that area. It’s against the culture of the people there.”
What would possess President Musharraf to sign such a humiliating retreat?
The war against the Taliban in North Waziristan was forced on Musharraf by the United States when it became clear that the terrorists were using the region as a staging ground for their attacks against Afghan troops. In response to the US request, Musharraf sent 80,000 troops to the region. The tribes rose up and in a series of fierce, small unit engagements inflicted many casualties on the Pakistani forces. After a few months, it became clear that the historically independent-minded tribes would not submit and in June, a cease fire was declared so that a deal could be hammered out.
In the last few weeks however, several events have occurred that may have forced Musharraf’s hand in North Waziristan while threatening his hold on power.
First, Musharraf may be calculating the limits of American power as he watches the Taliban grow stronger in Afghanistan as well as the slow progress of American arms in Iraq. Perhaps he doesn’t feel quite as secure and believes that a deal with the Taliban in North Waziristan (and other tribal areas as well) is better than relying on the American military to defeat the terrorists.
Secondly, and more significantly, Musharraf created a huge problem for himself on August 26 when he ordered the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the tribal leader and former governor of Balochistan. The octogenarian rebel leader was a revered tribal elder among the fiercely independent Baluchis and his death at the hands of Pakistani security forces may have been a colossal blunder.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province and also its most troublesome. There has been an independence movement in existence even before the partition, with 4 major rebellions since the 1950’s. Each insurrection was brutally suppressed by the government along with a crackdown on Baluchi traditions and culture. Blessed with abundant natural resources as well as some large natural gas fields, the restless province has proven to be virtually ungovernable. Some Baluchis resent the government taking so much wealth from the province and putting very little back in the form of government services, while others agitate for outright independence.
The killing of Bugti set off a wave of unrest all across Pakistan, but especially in the rebel leader’s home province. If another uprising is in the offing, Musharraf may have need for many of those 80,000 troops he sent to North Waziristan. As it stands now, Bugti’s militia and other tribal forces have carried out a few attacks against the gas pipelines but have not directly challenged government troops in the area. The prospect of another rebellion could have spurred Musharraf to make peace with the Taliban so that he could turn his attention to a growing insurgency in Balochistan.
Finally, Frederic Grare, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out the tenuous hold Musharraf has on power:
If the consequences of Bugti’s death on the ground are still difficult to predict, some of them are already apparent in the political arena. Every political party, even Musharraf’s own political allies, has condemned the killing. The division between the civilian leadership and the military is widening—a frightening trend in any country where the military has such a stranglehold on political life. If this rift continues to widen, the Pakistani military might demand that Musharraf, who is still simultaneously—although unconstitutionally—the army’s chief of staff, choose between his two positions.
The killing of Bugti has exposed a Pakistani president both unable to fulfill his commitments in the war on terror and only able to act decisively against his own people. Musharraf’s actions have reversed decades’ worth of slow progress toward national integration.
Reporting restrictions will guarantee that we will not hear much from Baluchistan in the coming months. But the next thing we hear might well be an explosion that reverberates as far as Washington.
Beset on all sides by a growing list of problems, including open opposition by some of the more religiously conservative elements in the military and the brazen support for the Taliban by the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI – support the Musharraf denies but that every western intelligence analyst in Afghanistan has confirmed – the Pakistani President is finding that his grip on power may be slipping away. With elections scheduled for next year, it is unclear whether he will allow a vote given what might emerge in his stead – an extremist Islamic regime with its fingers on a nuclear trigger. And if Musharraf fails to step down, there are many who may feel he has outlived his usefulness anyway.
Meanwhile, the Taliban will enjoy its safe haven in The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, virtually free to carry out operations against NATO forces in Afghanistan while harboring al-Qaeda terrorists and training the next generation of jihadists to attack western targets.
There have been some dark days recently in the War on Terror. And yesterday was certainly one of the darkest.
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