The amir (chief) of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baitullah Mehsud, one of Pakistan's most wanted men, is reported to have ordered his militants to "immediately cease their activities" in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). "Baitullah Mehsud has issued directives to all his comrades that in order to restore peace in the region, they should cease their activities forthwith both in the tribal region as well as the settled Districts of the NWFP," said a pamphlet released in South Waziristan and the adjoining areas of Tank, Gomal and Dera Ismail Khan on April 23, 2008. "He has warned that his directives should be complied with and those violating them will be publicly punished," it said.
A 15-point Draft Agreement, to be signed between the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan and the local political administration, envisages an end to militancy, exchange of prisoners, withdrawal of the military and resolution of issues in accordance with local customs and the Frontier Crimes Regulation. "The Draft Agreement contains clauses under which both sides will not take armed action against each other. The military will be withdrawn from certain areas, attacks on security forces will be stopped by militants," an unnamed security official was quoted as saying in The Post. The Draft Agreement requires
…the Mehsud tribes to give an undertaking that government and security forces would not be targeted at all; their equipment and property would not be damaged; no military or government functionary would be kidnapped; all roads would be opened to the Frontier Corps in accordance with the old procedure and there would be no restriction on their movement. Mehsud tribes would also be required to ensure that no terrorist activity takes place anywhere in Pakistan, including the tribal regions nor would they assist anyone in such an activity.
The Mehsuds would not use their soil for any anti-state activity nor would they allow anyone to do so, the Draft Agreement reads further. Mehsuds would "also furnish an undertaking not to create any parallel administration; respect writ of the state; contact the political administration for resolution of their problems while the administration would decide matters in accordance with local riwaj (customs) and the Frontier Crimes Regulation with the cooperation of local elders." Crucially, the Draft Agreement requires "Mehsud tribes to expel all foreign militants from their territory and undertake not to give them shelter in future."
The 'truce' is a consequence of negotiations between the TTP chief and the government, mediated through tribal interlocutors. Maulana Omar, the TTP spokesman, said the dialogue was "coming to fruition" and the agreement would incorporate demands from the two sides. He disclosed that discussions were under way on two tracks – at the provincial level to restore peace in the settled Districts, including Swat and Darra Adam Khel; and separately for FATA. The government believes that the current round of dialogue is more likely to succeed since they are being conducted with tribal leaders, not just with the militants.
The Draft Agreement envisages that the para-military Frontier Corps would replace the military in the FATA. Maulana Omar claimed that the Army had begun pulling out of the Mehsud-dominated area as a result of the dialogue. A military spokesperson, Major General Athar Abbas, however, denied that any orders had been issued to pull out the Army.
Maulana Omar has claimed that the TTP had in its custody more than 100 military, paramilitary and government officials. They would be released after the signing of the peace accord through a grand tribal jirga (council). He said the government had released three of their people, including Maulana Sufi Mohammad, chief of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e -Mohammadi (Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Laws, TNSM). "There will be full compliance from our side," he declared. "Those failing to abide by the orders will be hanged upside down in bazaars," the TTP statement warned.
That a 'peace process' is underway is now evident. Maulana Sufi Mohammad was released, after being taken from his hospital bed for talks with Ameer Haider Hoti, the NWFP Chief Minister, in Peshawar. Hoti told Daily Times that he was receiving "satisfactory feedback" from the Malakand region after the release of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, whose group, TNSM, has pledged to renounce violence. TNSM signed a pact eschewing violence in return for being allowed to peacefully campaign for Sharia (Islamic law). Security forces, however, have the right to "act against" any extremists who attacked the government. The TNSM, one of the five terrorist groups proscribed by President Pervez Musharraf on January 12, 2002, was formed in 1992 with the objective of a militant enforcement of Sharia. Ideologically, it is committed to transforming Pakistan into a Taliban-style state. Sufi Mohammad is reported to have organised thousands of people to fight the Northern Alliance (NA) in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. However, a majority of them were either killed or arrested by the NA. Some, including Sufi Mohammad, managed to return to Pakistan, only to be arrested. The TNSM operates primarily in the tribal belt, including Swat and the adjoining Districts of the NWFP.
However, Muslim Khan, a spokesman for Sufi Mohammad's son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, whose militants are fighting the security forces for control of the Swat Valley, said they would not call a truce. "We welcome the release of Sufi Mohammad, but we will only lay down arms when the government would enforce Shariah," Khan said. Nevertheless, sources indicate that a dialogue is also underway with Maulana Fazlullah and the government had also initiated a dialogue with the Taliban soon after winning the elections in February 2008, on the perception that President Pervez Musharraf's 'military-oriented tactics' had failed and were only spawning more violence.
Within the euphoria that 'peace deals' characteristically trigger, it is useful to recall that this is Islamabad's fourth 'non-military' attempt to pacify the Taliban-led militants since military operations commenced in July 2002, and that the Musharraf regime had repeatedly dabbled with the 'political solution' as well, with no success. The first agreement, known as the Shakai deal, in 2004, failed to end violence and eventually collapsed after Nek Muhammad, whose 'surrender' in April 2004 was a widely publicized event, turned his back on the Army. He was eventually killed in a targeted missile attack on June 17, 2004. A second effort also failed after the agreement signed in February 2005 with the influential Mehsud tribe broke down after Abdullah Mehsud, a Taliban-aligned leader closely linked to the Binoria seminary in Karachi, reneged on the deal and reverted to violence. On September 5, 2006, Taliban leaders in North Waziristan signed a 'peace agreement' with the government, promising to halt cross-border movement and stop attacks on government installations and security forces.
The salient features of this deal included the assurance that there would be no cross-border movement for militant activity in Afghanistan; on its part, the government pledged not to undertake any ground or air operations against the militants and to resolve issues through local customs and traditions; both parties were to return each other's weapons, vehicles and communication equipment seized during various operations; foreigners living in North Waziristan would have to leave Pakistan, but those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement; the agreement would come into force with the relocation of the Army from checkpoints in the region; the Khasadar force (a local tribal force) and Levy personnel will take over the check-posts; tribal elders, mujahideen and the Utmanzai tribe would ensure that no-one attacked security force personnel and state property. This third 'peace agreement' broke down in January 2007. While the guns were silent, pledges that the Taliban militia would not cross into Afghanistan for terrorist strikes and would also not provide safe havens for foreign militants in Waziristan, remained unfulfilled, and there was no guarantee that militants not on board would abstain from cross-border incursions or attacks on Pakistanis within the FATA.
Despite this continuous history of failure, and the consolidation of radical Islamist forces under the rubric of transient peace agreements, there is qualified support from the US Administration for the peace initiatives of the new dispensation in Islamabad. Nevertheless, aware of the dangerous ramifications of negotiating with terrorists, a top State Department official said a judgment depends on whether the groups keep their pledge against using force: "You have to talk to people… The Pakistani government is engaged in discussions designed to stop violence. It's got to be done in a way that produces results, that reduces violence," said Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher. He noted that there had been such efforts in the past, but unsuccessful ones because they were not enforced. The White House, however, gave a guarded response. Spokesperson Dana Perino said, "We have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don't think they work… What we encourage them to do, is to continue to fight against the terrorists and to not disrupt any security or military operations that are ongoing in order to help prevent a safe haven for terrorists there."
In an interview to Newsweek on April 21, 2008, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani spelt out a 'three-pronged strategy' to combat terrorism, especially in FATA. "We are ready to hold talks with all those who lay down arms and adopt the path of peace," he said. In his first policy statement in March 2008, Prime Minister Gillani explained his broad strategy:
First, we should deal with the people to improve their well-being and give them good job opportunities. We need to create a good environment and an education system [without the] old madrassas, where the students are being groomed for the Taliban, and give good health and communications facilities. We should give the people bread and butter and jobs, and only then can we think of the other strategy of [employing military] force. Force should be kept in the background and should not be put into practice all the time. If force is [used] all the time it will erode the authority of the government.
Regrettably, efforts at reconciliation have often meant the creation of safe spaces for terrorism. The new government headed by Gillani continues to labour under the misconception – as was the case with the predecessor regime – that 'talking with the devil' will bring rich dividends to the embattled country. Islamabad's new masters are treading a much-worn path in gambling with 'dialogue and development' as their principal strategies to curb militancy in FATA and elsewhere.
Within FATA, terrorist violence and subversion affects all of the seven Agencies – Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan – in varying degrees. The writ of the state has always been fragile in Waziristan, but levels of violence have been continuously augmenting. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal database, throughout 2005, 285 people, including 92 civilians and 158 terrorists, were killed in Waziristan in 165 incidents. In 2006, the death toll was 590, including 109 civilians, 144 soldiers and 337 terrorists, in 248 incidents. 1,681 persons, including 1,014 militants, 424 civilians and 243 security force personnel, were killed in the region in 2007. And in 2008, 726 persons have died so far [till April 27, 2008]. Considering Islamabad's understated accounts, the suppression of the Press and erratic reportage, the actual numbers could, in fact, be much higher.
Peace agreements reached during the Musharraf regime clearly gave the Taliban, al Qaeda and allied jihadi groups a chance to regroup, build up their strength and consolidate. In more ways than one, the deals between the government and the Islamist extremists are a signal that the Pakistan Army has failed in its quest for a military victory. When operations were launched against the Taliban-al Qaeda combine in the FATA in 2002, the Army, under enormous pressure from the US, was convinced that a military victory was essential. More than five years down the line, it is the proponents of a violent jihad who have achieved strategic successes. Moreover, Pakistan's incapacity to prosecute the war on terror in FATA, in part, due to disastrous deals with the militants, has also augmented the already gigantic terrorist problem in neighbouring Afghanistan.
In the immediate future, after a formal signing of the new Agreement, the Army is to withdraw from the tribal areas; detained Taliban operatives will be released; their arms and ammunition is to be restored to them; and crucially, they will have full freedom of movement and activity across FATA and the adjoining districts of the NWFP. There is also a parallel 'peace process' underway in NWFP, where there is now a full fledged militant movement which is no longer a spillover effect of the radicalism in FATA. There is no reason to believe that the new 'peace' will not augment the influence of the Islamist extremists and their operational capacities. This, precisely, has been the outcome of such deals in the past. The new government has clearly begun on a disastrous note by caving into the demands of the Taliban, to engineer an unequivocal retreat for the state.
Kanchan Lakshman is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management; Assistant Editor,
Faultlines: Writings on Conflict & Resolution. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal