Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat.
While the Taliban attacks the Pakistani military and government institutions in the Northwest Frontier Province, the government sues for peace in the tribal regions. After negotiating failed “peace accords” with the Taliban in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Swat, the Pakistani government has signed a new agreement in the tribal agency of Mohmand. The deal, which was signed by elders of the Halimzai tribes, one of the largest in the agency, stated the tribes “would not allow asylum to foreigners in their areas.” The peace deal does not address the issue of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Daily Times reported on the terms of the peace accord. There is no word on the concessions made by the Pakistani government.
According to the peace agreement, the tribes would neither protect any foreigners nor provide them any facilities. Miscreants would not be allowed to disrupt peace in the tribes’ areas and to take part in anti-government activities. Halimzai tribes will not allow any training centres for militants in their areas either. The Halimzai tribes will demolish or burn down the house of anyone found involved in anti-state activities, in addition to a Rs 500,000 fine and banishment from the area.
Mohmand agency has seen a marked increase in Taliban activity over the past year, with bombings, rocket attacks, “night letters,” and other attacks. In June, the Taliban threatened pro-government tribal leaders in the agency. “You people are infidels and hypocrites,” the Taliban letter to the tribes stated. “If you don’t stop negotiations with the government and meetings against the Taliban, then explosion(s) will occur in your homes.”
At the end of July, over 100 Taliban fighters occupied a historic mosque and shrine in the tribal agency and renamed it the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after the Taliban Mosque in Islamabad that was assaulted by the government in mid-July.
The Mohmand Taliban at the New Red Mosque is led by Omar Khalid, who claims to have 3,000 armed and trained fighters under his command. After seizing the mosque, he denied links with the Taliban and al Qaeda even as he pledged allegiance Red Mosque leader Ghazi Abdur Rashid. “If [the Taliban] come to us, we will welcome them,” said Khalid. “We will continue Ghazi Abdur Rashid’s mission even if it means sacrificing our lives.” Khalid also threatened to “use suicide bombers in self defence” if the new Red Mosque was raided. He seeks to “Islamize” the local tribes and plans establishing a “vice and virtue force.”
Several tribes in Mohmand formed a jirga, or council, to discuss the “birth of the Taliban” in the agency. The Taliban rejected the calls to abandon the mosque, and announced “a tribal jirga would be invited to urge tribal parents to send their children for Islamic education at the madrassa,” the Daily Times reported. “Around 300 students could be given free accommodation and food at the madrassa.” The madrassa at the new Red Mosque opened shortly afterward.
Pakistan continues to attempt to sign peace treaties with the Taliban and/or local tribal leaders, only to see the terms of deals violated and extremism increase in the tribal agencies. The Taliban now openly rule in tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan and Bajaur and in the settled district of Swat. Attacks against security forces and the government occur on a daily basis, while the Taliban and al Qaeda operate training camps and conduct strikes from their safe havens into Afghanistan.
While some Pakistan watchers have believed the peace accords are to be used in conjunction with a yet-to-be-announced offensive in the tribal agencies to route the Taliban and al Qaeda and restore the government’s writ, no such operation has been launched. And with summer nearing its end, the window to launch such an operation has closed.
The Pakistani government has signaled it has no intention of toughing it out. President Musharraf recently said the army will withdraw from the tribal agencies by January 2008, leaving security to the paramilitary forces including the Frontier Constabulary, the Levies, and the Khasadars. Members of the paramilitary forces have been abandoning their posts in the face of Taliban suicide and conventional attacks on checkpoints, convoys, and the homes and families of members.