1 The Long War Journal: Taliban gain ground as Musharraf focuses on Islamabad
Written by Bill Roggio on November 5, 2007 9:41 AM to 1 The Long War Journal
Available online at: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/11/taliban_gain_ground.php
Taliban in Swat celebrate in the streets. BBC photo. Click to here to view more images.
In the capital of Islamabad, the Pakistani government deployed tens of thousands of troops to tamp down protests led by lawyers and others opposed to the imposition of the state of emergency. The police wielded batons and fired tear gas into the crowds of protestors in Lahore, Karachi, Rawalpindi, and other cities. Over 1,500 lawyers have been rounded up and detained, while 14 members of the defunct Supreme Court are under house arrest.
While Musharraf cracks down on his political opposition in the heart of the country, deals are already being cut with the Taliban. In South Waziristan, a deal has already been made with Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban. In Swat, negotiations are underway to acquiesce to Maulana Qazi Fazullah.
Over the weekend, the military released 25 Taliban from custody in exchange for the release of 213 soldiers captured in South Waziristan during an ambush by Baitullah Mehsud's Taliban fighters at the end of August. The government also dismissed terrorism related charges against seven of the Taliban fighters. Mehsud demanded the release of his captured Taliban fighters, as well as the cessation of military operations as terms for their release and an end to attacks.
But the real news from the prisoner swap is that the government "agreed to implement the Sara Rogha peace accord in letter and spirit." The Sara Rogha accord was the agreement signed by both the government and Baitullah Mehsud, the powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan after the Pakistani military was fought to a standstill in South Waziristan in 2005.
Amir Mir reported on the terms of the Sara Rogha accord in 2005. Mir states the Sara Rogha accord did not require the Taliban to eject "foreign fighters" -- meaning al Qaeda -- surrender al Qaeda operatives, halt attacks in Pakistan, or lay down its weapons. All the Sara Rogha accord required was the Taliban to stop attacking Pakistani soldiers. "Interestingly, the Sara Rogha peace pact did not require that [recently slain Abdullah Mehsud, Baitullah's tribesman] surrender the foreign terrorists allegedly taking shelter with him; it simply bound him not to attack the Pakistan army and not give shelter to foreign terrorists," Mir stated.
In the settled district of Swat, the government is organizing a new peace jirga designed to cut another peace accord with the radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah. "[The caretaker Northwest Frontier Province] Chief Minister Shamsul Mulk said on Saturday that the government would convene a grand jirga of elders of the Malakand division to discuss and work out a strategy for resolving the Swat crisis," Dawn reported the day Musharraf suspended the constitution.
Negotiations to implement Sharia law, a key demand of Fazullah, are being discussed in the Malakand tribal agency as well as the settled districts of Shangla, Buner, and Lower Dir. Fazlullah also demanded the military withdraw the security forces and that criminal and terrorism cases be dismissed against his followers, as was done in South Waziristan.
Prior to the announcement of the grand jirga, a host of government officials signaled negotiations with Fazlullah were in the works. Mulik said just a day prior that "the government has kept all its options and channels open for dialogue to establish peace in District Swat." Northwest Frontier Province Governor Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai said the government "was utilizing all the channels including jirga system side by side the political process to settle the problems through peaceful means."
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said he would "personally contact Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) President Qazi Hussain Ahmed about his offer to help in pacifying the situation in Swat," the Daily Times reported. "If he can help us, it will be most welcome."
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the pro-Taliban president of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, offered to facilitate negotiations with Swat. " The matter should be resolved through negotiations rather then use of force," Qazi stated. "Consultation with Maulana Fazlullah is necessary to know about his point of view about Sharia, if his point of view about Sharia can bring peace in the area, there will be no problem to implement it."
Meanwhile, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal conducted a series of protests in Karachi against the government's attempts to restore security in Swat. The operation was described as a "massacre."
"The protestors had come prepared with placards and shouted anti-American and anti-government slogans," the Daily Times reported. "They blamed the government for carrying out a military operation in Swat to follow US policies just like the military operation against Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa in Rawalpindi." Protesters also called for the implementations of Sharia law.
In yesterday's article on the assessment of Musharraf's suspension of the constitution and declaration of a state of emergency, we noted the government was more likely to cut deals with the Taliban as Musharraf consolidates power in the capital. The release of 25 Taliban leaders and the reinstatement of the Sara Rogha accord in South Waziristan, along with the formation of a jirga to renegotiate the peace accords in Swat are bad signs of Musharraf's intentions with respect to al Qaeda and the Taliban.