Unwilling ally :Pakistan releases thousands of Taliban - establishes safe havens for terrorists near Afghan border
September 22, 2006
Critics say treaty, which calls for end to terrorist actions, seems 'a total capitulation' by Islamabad.By Arthur Bright | csmonitor.com
In a move that some say appears 'a total capitulation' to pro-Taliban forces, Pakistan signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Tuesday, and is withdrawing military forces in exchange for promises that militant tribal groups there will not engage in terrorist activities.
The Associated Press reports that the agreement is meant to end five years of fighting in the province, located along the border with Afghanistan, that has claimed the lives of over 350 Pakistani troops and hundreds of militants and civilians.
The New York Times reports that the deal "is widely viewed as a face-saving retreat for the Pakistani Army, which has taken a heavy battering at the hands of the mountain tribesmen and militants, who are allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda." But while the militants have promised to cease attacks across the border into Afghanistan and to expel foreign fighters, the treaty has given them a significant loophole.
Although Mr. bin Laden is thought to be in the area, Pakistani officials have given mixed signals as to whether he would still be considered a target by government forces. In his blog for ABC News, Brian Ross reports that Pakistani Major General Shaukat Sultan said in an interview that bin Laden "would not be taken into custody, as long as [he] is being like a peaceful citizen."
Soon after in a statement, however, the Pakistani ambassador to the US said, "If [bin Laden] is in Pakistan, today or any time later, he will be taken into custody and brought to justice." The ambassador also said that Gen. Sultan's comments were taken out of context, though Mr. Ross presents the transcript of the interview in his blog.
Though the treaty was met with hugs and the exchange of greetings between Pakistani soldiers and Talibani forces upon its signing, Ismail Khan of the Pakistan newspaper Dawn said the deal sent the government "back to square one."
The Washington Post notes that the peace deal may bode ill for Afghan and US forces across the border in Afghanistan, as it could embolden militants "to operate more freely in Pakistan and to infiltrate more aggressively into Afghanistan to fight US and allied forces there."
The Indo-Asian News Service reports that the US would prefer Pakistan retain control of its tribal areas like North Waziristan, in the interests of deterring terrorist groups.
However, Mr. McCormack said that he was unaware of the Pakistani peace deal in North Waziristan, and noted, "This is an area that traditionally has not been under the control of the central government, so this is a historical problem, I think, in Pakistan."
Pakistan: Friend or foe? (LA Times)
The bribe to exit Pakistan: 15 cents 08/30/06
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A deal with Islamist rebels is the latest in a foreign policy pendulum that swings between aggression and optimism.By David Montero | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN – On the eve of the five year anniversary of 9/11, Pakistan's government struck a deal Tuesday with Taliban fighters, handing them what may turn out to be effective control over the tribal border region of North Waziristan.
Their allies will be freed from jail, confiscated weapons will be returned, and the Army will pull back from the check posts it has erected, ending aerial and ground operations. In return, the militants promise to evict foreign fighters and prevent infiltration into Afghanistan
What looks like a stunning reversal of Pakistan's willingness to prosecute the war on terror is actually another pendulum shift between aggressive military tactics and optimistic deals for tribal support.
But neither approach has worked particularly well over the past five years, and this course has moved Pakistan away from the political reforms that many analysts here think would best combat terrorism and better integrate autonomous zones that have become havens for Islamic militants.
In the years since Sept. 11, 2001, Pakistan has displayed a singular dedication to fighting foreign fighters and their local hosts - often at a great price, both real and political. Pouring 80,000 troops and hardware into the tribal zone, the Pakistani military has lost nearly one man for every Al Qaeda operative - totaling several hundred - it has captured or killed. President Pervez Musharraf has nearly lost his life twice in the fight, after Al Qaeda's suicide bombers trained their sights on him. Few contest this record of sacrificial bravery.
But some say that it has come at a great national price: As the battle against Al Qaeda has mounted, so, too, has the military grown in strength and political influence, becoming in essence the very state it is supposed to serve. That has allowed it to break up Al Qaeda's network, but also to rupture the political landscape, splintering parties and institutions into fragments that can barely challenge its rule.
Today, analysts and members of the opposition claim, Parliament and civil society barely function in the shadows of the Musharraf government. As a consequence, the pillars of legitimacy needed to effectively address the causes of extremism - national consensus, social and political development, local governance - have been removed, leaving the military to address the problem the only way it knows how: with helicopter gunships and ground assaults. These measures have consistently failed, however, sowing widespread outrage that has compelled the government to backtrack, signing peace accords like the one this week.
"This militates against the principle of good governance. With a fragmented political landscape, the capacity of the government to implement its policy against terrorism is also affected," argues Sajjad Naseer, a professor of political science at the Lahore School of Economics.
Focus on Al Qaeda, but others gain
As a result, while Al Qaeda may have been neutralized, there remains the threat of local militant groups, such as the Taliban and indigenous jihadi outfits like Lashkar-i Tayyaba and Jaish-e Muhammed, all of which thrive in the cracks created by poor governance.
Recent attacks suggest that these groups continue to be potent:
• The suicide bombing in March against an American diplomat in Karachi (on Wednesday, police charged two suspects in the case who confessed they brought the explosives for the attack from somewhere in Waziristan);
• The alleged role of Lashkar-i Tayyaba or its offshoots in the July railway bombing in Mumbai (formerly Bombay);
• The apparent Pakistani ties to the London airplane plot, perhaps involving Jaish-e Muhammed and Al Qaeda.
"But what has been done in terms of local jihadi organizations, that provided networks [and] support?" asks Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director of the International Crisis Group, a think tank. "Look at London. You cannot compartmentalize these groups. They flow from one to the other. They have common goals."
While the government has been adept at plucking Al Qaeda leaders from cities, the border regions have begun to look like the old Afghanistan under Mullah Omar.
In the pine forests covering Dir, a remote area to the north of Waziristan, Osama bin Laden is nowhere to be found, despite rumors of his presence.
But his spirit lives on, reverberating in explosions that increasingly rock the area, two just last week. Local militant groups, whom the police seem unable to identify, are targeting music stores and Internet cafes in the main city, deemed vestiges of Western obscenity. It is, police officials fear, a sign that extremist tendencies are spreading, spilling over from the restive tribal zone to the south.
This was a problem allegedly contained to South Waziristan, where the Taliban have instituted strict religious codes of conduct. They have also hung and decapitated criminals and suspected spies. The state is powerless to stop mob justice there because it is now, according to local journalists and officials, the only kind of justice. In the vacuum, the Taliban have also allegedly carved out the area, which borders Afghanistan, as one of several bases from which to launch attacks against NATO and coalition troops.
South Waziristan deal not effective
It was, ironically, a peace agreement - much like this week's deal - that seems to have enabled all this, say observers. In 2004, the government granted amnesty to militant leaders in South Waziristan and pulled back its troops from check posts. It was widely seen as a failure of Islamabad's military strategy, which proved bloody for both the Army and local civilians. While the government hailed the accord, the area quickly became a vacuum that the Taliban filled. Within a year, Maulana Abdul Malick, a member of the National Assembly from South Waziristan, said the area was "virtually under the control of people who were once on the government's wanted list and foreign militants are roaming around freely."
The stakes are high if North Waziristan's militants or the government default on this week's deal. The area borders on eastern provinces in Afghanistan, where NATO troops are to assume military command in coming weeks. Some fear it could become, as South Waziristan already is, another launchpad for cross-border assaults.
On Wednesday, Musharraf, meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, called the accord a symbol of his commitment to crushing the Taliban. The White House reacted by saying it is not concerned.
But many here argue that the government seems able to cut deals only with militants, but won't engage with the country's own political parties.
"It shows us that the survival interests are far greater in the imagination of the military rulers than the larger national interest for political reconciliation," says Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. The government, he says, seems unable to deal with Nawaz Sharif or Benazir Bhutto, the two former prime ministers now blocked from returning to contest elections in 2007.
Those elections provide a new chance to address the problem, analysts say, by allowing a democratic government to tackle terrorism through national consensus. "Democracies are better equipped to deal with these issues than the military," says Mr. Rais.
Others concur, pointing out that a healthy democracy would most likely avoid making deals like the one this week.
"Had there been a representative government, there wouldn't be this deal between the Talibs and the government," says Ahmed. "It would have been debated in Parliament."
US outraged as Pakistan frees Taliban fighters
The mass release of the prisoners has provoked a stern rebuke to the Musharraf regime from the American government. "We have repeatedly warned Pakistan over arresting and then releasing suspects," said a US diplomat in Islamabad. "We are monitoring their response with great concern."
The Daily Telegraph tracked down and interviewed several former fighters who were part of a batch of eight foreign prisoners released last month. Burhan Ahmad, a 32-year-old Bangladeshi who has an American degree in engineering, admitted helping the Taliban against US-led forces in Afghanistan five years ago.
He was arrested by Pakistani security agents as he passed back over the frontier in 2003. Last month he was released from jail, where he spent three years without facing trial.
Like thousands of other Taliban and al-Qa'eda suspects who have been rounded up in Pakistan, Ahmad is now being fed and sheltered by an Islamic welfare group as he waits while a travel agency that specialises in repatriating jihadis prepares his identity papers and air ticket.
He was handed over to the al-Khidmat Foundation, a welfare organisation run by the hard-line Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami, by a local court in Peshawar.
"I was arrested on the very same day that I arrived in Pakistan as I crossed from Khost to South Waziristan," said Ahmad who then spent 28 months in the custody of one of Pakistan's intelligence agencies before being transferred to a jail where he was imprisoned for three months. "The situation has become too difficult in Afghanistan and so I wanted to go home. I felt I had played my part."
In the hands of al-Khidmat Ahmad was more concerned with worldly goods than attaining a martyr's end in jihad. He produced a list of his personal items that he wanted back from the security agency: socks, a laptop, a thermal vest and some money.
His lawyer, Fida Gul, said: "He is no problem. He will go to Bangladesh. He is not a criminal and he has been cleared by the security forces. His arrest was illegal."
One of those who spoke to this newspaper was a young Tajik who entered Pakistan last year to study, he claimed, at a madrassa in Peshawar. He was shot in the side by Pakistani police as he tried to escape when the madrassa was raided.
A third former prisoner, a 37-year-old Algerian, had come to fight the Russian-backed government in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. He married a Pakistani woman and claimed to have settled down and worked in the honey business when he was arrested last year.
"I am going home to Algeria as I want to take advantage of an amnesty offered by the government," he said. "I know I will be arrested on arrival and interrogated as this happened to several of my Algerian brothers. But then I will be released as I have done nothing wrong."
On the question of whether released militants would return to jihad, Hazrat Aman, a field officer of the al-Khidmat Foundation, said: "If they react like that it is a natural phenomenon. Some of these people spent two to three years in jail. Some of them will live peacefully and others will join jihad again."
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