North Waziristan and Quetta: Pakistani Tribal regions continue to slide into the hands of the Taliban and al Qaeda
News from Pakistan’s western tribal belt is less than encouraging these days. The Taliban and their al Qaeda backers continue to operate from safe havens within Pakistan, particularly in North Waziristan and Quetta.
The Taliban have fought the Pakistani Army to a standstill, and forced them to largely remain in barracks in the North Waziristan agency capital of Miranshah. Beheadings of suspected U.S. spies are now commonplace; the bodies of the two latest victims “were dumped at separate places near Miranshah.” Despite this, the Pakistani government is openly negotiating with the Taliban. This is the second time the Pakistani government has negotiated a settlement with the Taliban since the Pakistani Army was largely defeated in 2004.
The Taliban are not only negotiating a settlement which will allow them to remain in control of North Waziristan, but one which would require the Pakistani government to pay ‘huge compensation’ for fighting in the region. The Daily Times reports on the haggling over the tribute to be paid to the Taliban.
“The sum they are demanding is quite large. It is in billions,” they added [editor’s note: Rs 1 billion equals about $16.5 million). Around Rs 50 million [$830,000] was paid to key Taliban commanders in South Waziristan in 2004 after they surrendered following a peace deal with the government, but the Taliban in North Waziristan, according to the sources, are demanding Rs 200 million [$3.3 million] as compensation.
Victorious governments do not pay ransoms of millions of dollars (which goes a long way in that corner of the world) while government troops are targeted and civilians are beheaded. The money is tool of humiliation against the Pakistani government. And the cash will allow the Taliban to consolidate their gains in North Waziristan while reinforcing the Taliban in other agencies and fueling the Afghan insurgency.
The Taliban are running the southern Afghanistan campaign largely from Quetta in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. Colonel Chris Vernon was excoriated in May of 2006 for speaking frankly about the Taliban’s status in Pakistan. “The thinking piece of the Taliban is out of Quetta in Pakistan. It’s the major headquarters,” Colonel Vernon said in an interview with the Guardian, “They use it to run a series of networks in Afghanistan.” Colonel Vernon’s remarks were not intended to be on the record, but the Guardian reprinted the comments regardless. His words are echoed by military commanders across southern Afghanistan, but the sentiment is only spoken off the record. When I interviewed Colonel Vernon in June of 2006 about this very issue, he refused to answer. Military officers have been advised not to discuss this, as there are serious policy implications with recognizing the status of the Taliban in western Pakistan.
Despite a roundup of over 200 Taliban in Quetta in July of 2006, the city remains to this day a base of operations for the Taliban. A source in the intelligence community indicates the location of notables such as Taliban leader Mullah Omar and military commander Jalaluddin Haqqani is an open secret. The southern border crossing at Chaman, which lies 60 miles east of Quetta, remains a revolving door for the Taliban to transit to and from Afghanistan.
All the while, the Taliban and al Qaeda continue to amass power in a nuclear-armed Pakistan. And the gains from the ouster of the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan are wasted away as the groups reorganize in western Pakistan, a region immune from Coalition air strikes and an ineffective Pakistani government.