15 October, 2006

Taliban in Waziristan threaten NATO

Pakistan Dawn argues that, contrary to earlier reports, the Waziristan Accord was not signed between the Pakistan government and local tribal elders but between the government and the Taliban. Although the Accord was supposed to remove foreign (i.e. Taliban) influences from Waziristan, it contained no enforcement mechanisms and an unchecked Taliban have become stronger than before in the area. Consequently, Waziri-based Taliban incursions into Afghanistan have become increasingly problematic for NATO.

...the deal stipulates that foreign militants living in North Waziristan would either leave or live peacefully. But no mechanism has been put in place to oversee and verify either their conduct or the departure of those who violate the agreement. Over a month after the signing of the deal, there is no progress on this front.

Contrary to the government’s assertion, troops deployed in and around Miramshah [regional capital], except those manning the borders, have been removed from check-posts and relocated to their camps. All weapons seized from militants have been returned and their men released.

There have been more kidnappings, robberies and murders since then as the Khasadar force — a ragtag, untrained tribal force left to man the posts — has neither the teeth nor the wherewithal to rein in the militants or control crime, area residents point out.

Eyewitnesses say there are now not one but two Taliban offices in Miramshah to maintain law and order, control crime and address public complaints, a serious violation of the agreement by the Taliban who had undertaken not to form a parallel administration in the tribal region.

There is growing evidence that militants are now more assertive than they were before the September 5 agreement. Recently they wrested custody of suspects, along with a vehicle the latter had snatched, telling the Khasadars that they would deal with the suspects themselves. Nothing is known as to what happened afterwards as the hapless Khasadars merely looked on.

The agreement says that there will be no cross-border infiltration but Nato military officials stationed in Afghanistan have been quoted as saying there is a 3oo per cent increase in militant activity in the border regions. The death of a local militant commander, Maulvi Mir Kalam, and his men in an operation across the border and the capture of 10 of their comrades by security forces is a case in point.

The deal also stipulated there would be no targeted killings but recent reports indicate that alleged spies have been assassinated by militants in the region.

In essence, there are two main verifiable clauses in the agreement: one, that the militants would not attack government forces and installations and, two, that the government, for its part, would not undertake any ground or air offensive. That the two sides have stuck to their word on at least these two points explains the relative peace in an otherwise volatile tribal region.

Equally crucial and perhaps central to this whole agreement were the two other clauses, the presence of foreign militants and cross-border infiltration. It is unclear what additional steps the government has taken to stop militants’ movement across the border since the truce. But if the death of Mir Kalam and the reported arrest and subsequent release of three ‘mujahideen’ in the Kurram tribal region — at the request of militants in North Waziristan — are any indication, the government will find it hard to defend its position that the truce is directed against the Taliban and not in their favour.

Indeed, peace is the desired goal. But one look at the agreement and the situation on the ground and it is glaringly evident that the government has chosen the path of pacification by appearing to capitulate to the militants than take corrective measures to ensure lasting peace. Peace is vital but not at the expense of abdicating state authority, as appears to have happened in Waziristan’s case. Therefore, when President Musharraf said at a recent gathering that “there is no guarantee that it [the agreement] will succeed”, it was pretty clear why.

Given the complexity of the situation, and to be fair to the president, it should be mentioned that Gen Musharraf also said that if anybody had a better idea of how to deal with the situation, he would be a patient listener.

But he is not the only player in the region, however critical his role in the war on terror may be. On cross-border infiltration, Kabul is being joined in its complaints by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). With a growing Taliban insurgency and mounting casualties being taken by the 37-nation Nato-led ISAF, Pakistan is coming under a lot of pressure to do more.

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