A day before Pakistan’s crucial February 18 parliamentary elections, the military government renewed the September 2006 North Waziristan peace accord. The move is widely seen as part of a revived effort to restore peace and order to the region under the aegis of the new military chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, who took over the military leadership after President Musharraf retired from that post. Indeed, the agreement came two days after General Kayani visited the regional military headquarters in Miranshah and handed gallantry awards to soldiers there (Dawn [Karachi], February 18).
The move occurred in the wake of renewed militancy culminating in a CIA drone attack near Mirali on January 28 that killed Abu Laith al-Libbi, a senior al-Qaeda operative (The News [Karachi], January 29). There had been several ceasefires between the military and militants with the last one due to expire on February 17. Earlier in January, the governor of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), retired General Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, resigned from his post after the collapse of the 2006 peace accord (Daily Times, January 27). Orakzai has been replaced by Owais Ahmad Ghani, best known for his harsh treatment of rebels as the former governor of Balochistan (The News, January 1).
There are two principal differences between the 2006 and the 2008 accords. While the 2006 accord was negotiated with so-called militant Taliban leaders, the 2008 accord involves 286 tribal elders representing all the sub-clans of the Utmanzai Wazirs and Daurs that dominate the region. In a region with nearly 400,000 inhabitants, the Utmanzai Wazirs outnumber the Daurs almost two to one. North Waziristan is spread over 1,817 square miles, with the Daurs living in the fertile Tochi River valley and around the principal towns of Miranshah and Mirali.
The 2008 accord also extends its writ over all North Waziristan, in contrast to the 2006 accord that was mostly limited to Miranshah because that was where the principal militant group leader, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, held sway. Representatives of the militant leader were also present at the jirga (tribal assembly) this time around and endorsed the decision (Dawn, February 18). The inclusion of Mirali—the tribal agency’s second largest town—in the present accord is important because of the activity of foreign militants around there, as seen in the CIA drone attack that killed al-Libbi.
The need to cobble together this accord by election day reflects the urgency of the new military leadership to distance itself from the previous failed military strategies in Waziristan. The military operation in South Waziristan against Tehrek-e-Taliban (Movement of the Taliban) leader Baitullah Mehsud—who has been blamed for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto—has also ended for the time being with a unilateral ceasefire announced by Mehsud.
By ceasing military actions in both North and South Waziristan, General Kayani may be seeking a breathing spell to help usher in a civilian government in Pakistan that is no longer overshadowed by President Musharraf. Such a civilian government and General Kayani’s eschewing of military involvement in politics may allow this second North Waziristan peace accord a greater chance of success.