As the Taliban fights the Pakistani military in an undeclared insurgency in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Pakistani government continues to sue for peace, and in the process, has released a senior al Qaeda operative. Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, an al Qaeda operative and computer expert who “acted as a link between top al-Qaeda leaders and operational cells,” was released from Pakistani custody. Khan was captured in July 2004 in the city of Lahore. An e-mail chain recovered on Khan’s computer allowed Western intelligence agents to capture Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian al Qaeda operative who was involved in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The release of Khan from custody is an ominous sign. The Pakistani government released over 2,500 Taliban, al Qaeda, and associated Pakistani jihadis during the signing of the Waziristan Accord in September 2006. Currently, the government is seeking to revive the North and South Waziristan Accords, which have been negated by Pakistani Taliban commanders. Baitullah Mehsud, the powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan, called off the South Waziristan Accord over the weekend. The Pakistani government has sent several delegations to negotiate with the Taliban to maintain the North Waziristan Accord.
The government is pressing for negotiations as heated battles between Taliban and government military forces rage throughout North and South Waziristan. In the latest round of fighting, four soldiers were killed in suicide attacks and ambushes in North Waziristan, while military helicopters killed 15 “miscreants” in a strike on a compound. Fifteen Pakistani soldiers remain unaccounted for after being kidnapped in South Waziristan, while one of the soldiers was found beheaded. Over the weekend, the body of a beheaded religious leader was found in South Waziristan. Upwards of 300 police, paramilitary, and regular army soldiers have been killed throughout the Northwest Frontier Province since fighting intensified in mid-July.
Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.
Recently, 28 of the 29 Taliban and al Qaeda training camps in North and South Waziristan emptied out for reasons as of yet unknown to the Western intelligence community.
The Taliban, meanwhile, continue to grow in strength across the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government seeks to negotiate a deal with the Taliban in Darra Adamkhel. The Taliban are on a rampage “to eliminate social evils from society after the local administration and jirga system have failed on this front.” As they keep the paramilitary forces pinned down at checkpoints, the Taliban hunt and kill “criminals” in the settled district.
Pakistan has also cut deals with the Taliban in the Bajaur agency, while the Taliban have de facto control over Bannu and Tank, and maintain a strong influence in the remaining tribal agencies and settled districts throughout the Northwest Frontier Province.