Update on Pakistan’s peace deal : will it work?
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
On the same subject, here is an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor comparing Pakistan’s policy to that of the United States in Iraq. “Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists,” it says. “The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.”
No doubt many more twists and turns are yet to come before the picture becomes clearer.
Pakistan’s impending deal with the Mehsud tribes to end hostilities in South Waziristan could either turn out to be the door to a wider peace along the troubled corridor with Afghanistan or a strategic blunder with consequences not just for Pakistan, but for Afghanistan and beyond including the West.
Is Pakistan ready for it ? How far have the country’s new civilian leaders — who had pledged a radically different approach to the northwest region considered the haven of the Taliban and al Qaeda — thought it through?
Newspaper editorials, military experts and blogs are debating those questions both in Pakistan and a world away in the United States, Britain and even Canada, which worries whether its troops in Afghanistan will end up paying a price.
The 15-point agreement, according to a draft that has appeared in the media, essentially calls for an end to militant activity and an exchange of prisoners in return for the gradual withdrawal of the Pakistani military from parts of South Waziristan. There would be no more attacks or kidnapping of military and government officials, roads will be opened and the Frontier Corps, the local security force, will be allowed free movement.
More importantly, the Mehsud elders have also promised to expel all foreign militants from their territory starting within a month and the Pakistani government hopes to replicate the agreement in other parts of the region as well, aiming to drive the wedge deeper between the home grown elements and al Qaeda.
Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the umbrella group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement of Pakistan) has already announced a ceasefire and threatened to string anyone violating it upside down in a bazaar. So far so good although there was a car bombing on Friday near a police station in North West Frontier Province. The Taliban said it was in retaliation for a police shootout and the ceasefire remained in place.
The government justifies the policy change saying it believes negotiations, significantly increased development aid for the tribal region and legislation designed to eventually integrate it with the rest of Pakistan offer the most effective strategy for turning the population there against al Qaeda.
In any case the military option has been tried, and it hasn’t produced results ; the military has lost hundreds of soldiers in the fighting, it has brought forth a spate of suicide bombings, and the operations have been deeply unpopular across the country.
Indeed, even the U.S. Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report this month accused the Bush administration of failing to develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent — let alone decisively defeat — the al Qaeda leadership that fled to Pakistan after U.S.-led forces chased it out of Afghanistan more than six years ago.
The report, which was based on intelligence reports and interviews with U.S. diplomats and military and intelligence officers, found that Washington had relied too heavily on President Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistani army to deal with al Qaeda and that virtually all of the nearly six billion dollars in aid Washington had provided to help Pakistan fight al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas had gone to the military, while only a tiny fraction was earmarked for economic and other forms assistance for the largely Pashtun population there.
So then where is the rub ? The main criticism is that Pakistan might be buying peace for itself, while letting the militants devote their energy to the fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan which they say is the “mother of all the problems there.”
There is no mention in the draft agreement of ending cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
Secondly, deals with militants in both North and South Waziristan have been tried before, with disastrous consequences. A report by the International Crisis Group said Musharraf’s 2006 North Waziristan agreement was directly responsible for creating a safe haven for al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan.
And finally there is an issue of principle. Pakistani defence specialist Ikram Sehgal argues that while “all militants are not terrorists”, he says “one cannot (and should not) negotiate with terrorists. Baitullah Mehsud is a terrorist.”
In a posting this week, the blog fiverupees says Pakistan must pause and consider if it is ready to face the consequences of another 9/11 or 7/7 , but this time originating directly from the areas it is supposed to control.