On September 5, Pakistan signed a peace deal with “Taliban militants” in North Waziristan, where its military has been battling insurgents since 2004. Under the deal, military troops have now been redeployed to their designated camps and forts within the region. The political agent, who represents the federal government in the region, signed the deal on behalf of Islamabad, while seven “militants,” who represented the local “Taliban Shura” (Taliban advisory council), affixed their names to a three-page agreement that features 16 clauses binding the signatories (Dawn, September 6).
The deal offers amnesty to Taliban militants and “foreigners” (a reference to Afghan-Arabs who are members of al-Qaeda) in North Waziristan for a pledge that they would desist from mounting cross-border attacks into Afghanistan; assaulting Pakistani security forces, public servants, state property, tribal leaders and journalists; and carrying heavy weapons (Dawn, September 6). They will, however, be allowed to travel across the border into Afghanistan on a “business trip” or a “family visit” and carry “light” weapons such as AK-47s. Similar peace agreements were reached in South Waziristan: one with Taliban Commander Nek Mohammad, which fell apart after his death in an airstrike; another with Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, a veteran of Guantanamo Bay; and still another with the loyalists of Nek Mohammad. The latter two agreements were concluded in 2005 on the Taliban’s terms, which virtually crowned their ascendancy over the tribal leaders and the political administration—an arm of the federal government—in the region.
The September 5 deal is also a repeat of the earlier three agreements reached in South Waziristan. It binds the government to cease ground and air assaults against the Taliban and resolve all future disputes according to the Rivaaj (tribal customs). It further obligates the government to redeploy its troops from North Waziristan to their designated camps and forts, and dismantle all 12 checkpoints that were set up to hunt al-Qaeda and Taliban militants (Dawn, September 6). These checkpoints will now be manned by local tribesmen who make up the tribal paramilitary force, locally known as the Khasadar.
Since the signing of the deal, the government has set free 132 Taliban fighters who were jailed for terrorist violence (Daily Times, September 8). Also, it has returned their seized weapons (including 24 AK-47s), restored their impounded property and reinstated their forfeited privileges (including government allowances). Additionally, the government has approved a cash compensation of 230 million rupees ($3.8 million) for the material losses suffered by tribesmen (Dawn, September 9).
Many Pakistanis of different persuasions—members of civil society, activists for democracy, liberals, leftists, nationalists and seculars—are not persuaded of the deal’s intended objective, which is “peace.” Rather, they see it as an instrument for converting North Waziristan into “a safe haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” making the Taliban Shura, a signatory to the deal, “winners” (Dawn, September 6; Daily Times, September 8). Others think the government has “ceded the [North Waziristan] region to the Taliban” and that this amounts to “a total capitulation” (Dawn, September 6; Daily Times, September 9). Unnerved by the backlash, the government hid behind the semantics, claiming that it has signed the deal with the Utmanzai tribe and not with the Taliban. Yet the Taliban Shura and its seven signatories to the deal are all members of the Utmanzai tribe, which inhabits North Waziristan. The international media, however, has insisted that the actual agreement has been “signed” indirectly between Pervez Musharraf and Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement (Daily Times, September 26).
Afghanistan’s Reaction to the Deal
Yet Musharraf described the deal as an “achievement” for Pakistan and a “model” for Afghanistan to follow (Daily Times, September 8). A day after the deal was inked, he flew to Kabul on September 6-7 where he pressed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to consider a similar agreement with the Afghan Taliban. He assured Karzai that the deal he signed with the Taliban would end “Taliban activity on our side of the border or across the border in Afghanistan” (Daily Times, September 8). Karzai was not as certain. He skeptically told journalists that “we will wait and see” (Daily Times, September 8). Contrary to Musharraf’s assurances, however, Afghanistan has seen a three-fold increase in “Taliban activity” since September 5, according to NATO.
The Taliban, however, deny that there is either infiltration from North Waziristan into Afghanistan, or that there is any “foreign militant” (a reference to Afghan-Arabs) living in the region (Dawn, September 6). Three days after the Taliban’s denial, Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, the governor of the North-West Frontier Province (also known as Pakhtunkhaw), affirmed that foreign militants in the region “are likely to be in the hundreds” (Daily Times, September 9). For his part, Musharraf also admitted in Kabul on September 7 that “al-Qaeda and the Taliban are operating both in Pakistan and Afghanistan” (Dawn, September 8). These contradictions were not lost on the Afghan parliament, which dropped Musharraf’s scheduled address on September 7 to its members, citing “security reasons” (Daily Jang, September 11).
The Deal’s Impact on Afghanistan
The deal is likely to embolden the Taliban to launch even more lethal attacks in Afghanistan. It is pertinent to note that the Taliban on both sides of the Durand Line, which separates Pakistan from Afghanistan, pledge their allegiance to Mullah Omar. As the Taliban do not recognize the Durand Line as an “international border,” they assert their identity as Taliban, not as Afghan Taliban or Pakistani Taliban. The deal has helped the Taliban on Pakistan’s side of the Durand Line by taking military pressure off them and freeing up their combat resources to engage NATO and coalition forces on the other side of the border. Mullah Dadullah, a right-hand man of Mullah Omar, who commands 12,000 Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan and who claims to direct an additional squad of 500-strong fidayeen (suicide bombers), stated in a post-deal press interview that “fighting in Waziristan was in the interest of America,” which was diverting “our resources from fighting Western forces” in Afghanistan (The Post, September 28). The deal seems to have staunched that diversion as Afghanistan has suffered from an escalation in lethal violence, which has been directed at higher-value targets.
For example, on September 8, the Taliban mounted the deadliest attack yet in the heart of Kabul, which killed 16 people, including two U.S. soldiers. Two days later, on September 10, they killed the governor of Paktia province, which borders North Waziristan, who was the highest-ranking public servant yet murdered in a suicide bombing since the assassination of the Afghan vice president in Kabul. The next day, an attack on the governor’s funeral yielded six more dead. On September 13, they fired two rockets in Nangarhar, where Karzai and Musharraf met to open the Torkham-Jalalabad road; one rocket landed near the airport. On September 18, a suicide bomber killed 10 people in Herat; on September 22, 19 construction workers were killed in Kandahar; on September 25, a provincial director of the Women’s Affairs Ministry was slain in Kandahar city; on September 26, 18 people were killed in a failed suicide attack on the governor of Helmand; on September 30, in yet another daring attack in the national capital, a suicide bomber killed 12 people outside the Interior Ministry and injured 42.
These attacks are likely to further grow in frequency and intensity, especially in Afghan provinces that sit close to the Durand Line, such as Helmand, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Khost, Kunar, Paktia and Paktika. The United Nations’ Security Monitoring Program attests to this likelihood: “The truces between Pakistan’s military and the separatists,” the UN says, “have coincided with rising violence and increased attacks in four Afghan provinces along the Pakistan border.” A diplomat further specifies these links by observing: “The Waziristan border is like somebody has swung the gate open. They [the Pakistanis] have brought peace there by exporting the problem.” It must be remembered that Waziristan has been a staging post for Afghan mujahideen since the late 1970s, when 120,000 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan.
Of the neighboring provinces, however, Helmand, Kandahar and Kunar are bearing the brunt of Taliban violence. Kunar hosts 3,000 militants who are putting up stiff resistance to NATO troops under the leadership of al-Qaeda commander Abu Ikhlas al-Masri (The Post, September 11). These militants are trained in making explosive devices, guerrilla war tactics, suicide bombings and sophisticated spying. Many of them freely cross into neighboring towns of Dir and Chitral in Pakistan, where Western intelligence sources claim that Osama bin Laden might be hiding and which Pakistan vehemently denies. The Taliban use brutal tactics to keep people in Kunar intimidated and on their side. A case in point is the abduction of an intelligence agent in the area, whose mutilated body was found with a note stuck to it: “Whoever works for the U.S. will meet the same fate” (The Post, September 11).
The growing hostility toward Islamabad in its tribal areas has further opened up hospitable space for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The failed military operation in North and South Waziristan has troubled neighboring Khyber and Malakand Agencies as well, which have now become dangerously destabilized to the advantage of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. This means more trouble for bordering Afghan provinces.
Reasons for the Current Peace Deal
This is not the first time that the Musharraf regime has caved in to the Taliban’s demands. In February 2005, it “indirectly paid about 32 million rupees (about $500,000) to al-Qaeda in extortion money” (Terrorism Monitor, February 23). Later, it struck a deal with the Taliban in South Waziristan and left them alone. The Taliban have since renamed the region the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan, and successfully extended their administrative and judicial reach into neighboring towns and cities, most prominently Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bara and even parts of Peshawar, which is the capital city of the NWFP. The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan now has its own map and national flag, which lend it all the trappings of a state (The Post, September 28). The September 5 peace deal is the result of the Taliban’s growing influence in the region.
Nevertheless, three factors hastened the deal. The first factor was the Pakistani military’s inability to pacify the region, even after taking thousands of casualties, including 600 fatalities in North and South Waziristan by July; the casualty count is actually believed to be much higher than the government admits (The Economist, July 8-14). This forced Islamabad to search for a political solution. Having immobilized the military, the Taliban went after the government’s chief support base in the region—tribal leaders. These tribal leaders are Pashtun nationalists who form an even stronger base of support for Karzai and Pakistan-based pro-Karzai Pashtun nationalist parties—the Awami National Party (ANP) of Asfandyar Wali Khan and the Pakhtunkhaw Milli Awami Party (PMAP) of Mehmood Khan Achakzai. In North and South Waziristan alone, there are 2,000 tribal leaders who pledge their support to Karzai, to the dismay of Musharraf, who is an Indian-born immigrant with no ethnic constituency of his own in Pakistan. The weak among these tribal leaders became more vulnerable to the Taliban’s deadly attacks. The Taliban has, thus far, killed 150 of them, while 250 fled to neighboring areas and an additional 25 live under the “threat of beheadings” for their role as “spies” (The Economist, July 8-14). Islamabad failed to protect these leaders, who willingly risked their lives for its fight. Over time, Waziristan (both North and South) became a “separate state,” where the Taliban even commanded the public airwaves with their FM radio stations, blaring their theology across the region (Asia Times, September 9).
Second, the Taliban’s parallel resurgence in Afghanistan persuaded the government to neutralize its hostility and rebuild relations with the Taliban before it was too late. Pakistan believed that the Taliban’s military successes in Afghanistan, especially since the deployment of NATO troops in the region, have shown their resilience. Extrapolating from its own experience in Waziristan, Islamabad concluded that the Taliban are “unbeatable.”
Third, the redeployment of U.S. troops from southern Afghanistan signaled changing priorities of the international community in the region. As a result, Pakistan began to foresee the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which it savors as an antidote to the Northern Alliance government in Kabul that it perceives as friendly to India and hostile to Pakistan. Pro-Musharraf commentators, sharing the government’s assessment, predicted an impending fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. “If the government [of Pakistan] perseveres for a few more months, a bright future will await us,” one such commentator wrote (Daily Jang, September 11). Therefore, Pakistan foresees the return of a pre-9/11 Afghanistan with the Taliban in the driving seat again (Asia Times, September 9).
Anticipating the “bright future,” Pakistan set out to build bridges to the Taliban. The September 5 peace deal is the first major step in this direction. Musharraf is now painting the Taliban as a popular resistance movement. On September 11, he told an audience in Brussels: “The center of gravity of terrorism has shifted from al-Qaeda to the Taliban,” which “has its roots in the people” (Dawn, September 12). The Afghan government, however, was quick to reject his revisionist view, dismissing the Taliban as “a creation of Pakistan” (The Nation, September 13). Musharraf’s thinking on the Taliban, however, does not square with his policies. In Kabul, he asked the Afghan government, “Let’s fight the Taliban together” (Daily Jang, September 11). Yet, why does Musharraf make peace with the Taliban if he wants to fight them?
These contradictions reflect Musharraf’s desire for Pakistan to be seen as a frontline state in the war on terrorism, which left it $20 billion richer by 2003. Most recent estimates, which have been widely circulated in the Pakistani media, show that Pakistan has cashed in $50 billion (half of its GDP) in grants-in-aid, soft loans, debt write-offs, debt-rescheduling, preferential terms of trade, selective investment and remittances between 2001 and 2006. While Islamabad is realigning its strategic interests with the resurgent Taliban, it certainly does not want to lose billions of dollars either, which have continued to flow in its direction since 9/11. Hence, Islamabad stands by the Taliban and fights them too.