The Pakistani government is caving to the demands of South Waziristan Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud less than one week after his forces captured well over 150 Pakistani regular army troops in the tribal agency. Over 100 “tribesmen” of the Mehsud tribe have been released by the government “in an effort to pave the way for the release of 210 kidnapped soldiers,” the Kuwaiti News Agency reported.
Mehsud’s Taliban forces captured the Pakistani army troops last week as the soldiers were patrolling through South Waziristan. The Pakistani military initially claimed the troops were merely sheltering in a valley due to bad weather, but it was later confirmed a company-sized unit driving in 17 vehicles was captured by Mehsud’s Taliban forces. Initial reports indicated about 110 troops were kidnapped, but the number of confirmed troops has since risen.
The Taliban claim over 300 soldiers have been captured in South Waziristan. No shots were fired during the capture of the Pakistani troops. The Taliban have also captured 10 Pakistani soldiers in Mohmand after attacking checkpoints in the agency. Yesterday, the Taliban launched a suicide attack in Wana in South Waziristan, killing four and wounding 10. “The [Taliban] spokesman warned the government that if it did not change its Waziristan policy, militants would intensify attacks on security forces and launch more suicide attacks,” Dawn reported.
The release of the 100 Mehsud “tribesmen” comes prior to the release of the Pakistani troops; no date has been announced for their release. The government opened direct negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud late last week. Negotiations with the Taliban were said to have failed after Mehsud demanded that Pakistani forces stop patrolling in the Mehsud tribal regions. Mehsud claims the government agreed to stop patrolling in South Waziristan as part of the terms of the Sara Rogha agreement, or the South Waziristan Accord, which was signed in February 2005.
The Sara Rogha agreement was the first of several failed “peace accords” the Pakistani government entered into with the Taliban. Since then, the government signed agreements with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat, and Mohmand agencies, and the Taliban openly rule in these agencies. The Taliban essentially run Tank and Bannu without signing an agreement with the government, and have a strong presence in the majority of districts and agencies throughout the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban and al Qaeda operate 29 training camps in North and South Waziristan alone.