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Pakistan releases Taliban leader, signs peace deal with outlawed Taliban group


Maulana%20Sufi%20Mohammad.jpg

Maulana Sufi Mohammad, head of the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammed, freed from Pakistani prison.

Within weeks after the new central and provincial governments signaled it would revive negotiations with the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province and the lawless tribal areas, Pakistan has freed a senior Taliban leader jailed since 2002. After signing a six-point agreement with the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi, the government released Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the radical Taliban group.

Sufi Mohammed is one of the most dangerous Taliban leaders in the Northwest Frontier Province. As the ideological leader of the outlawed Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Mohammadi (the TNSM, or the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law), he has close links with the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban as well as senior al Qaeda leaders.

The TNSM is known as the "Pakistani Taliban" and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent over 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during the opening stages of Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001 and 2002. Sufi was jailed by the Pakistani government after the TNSM was banned.

After Sufi's arrest, Faqir Mohammed assumed control of the TNSM in Sufi's absence, and the Bajaur tribal agency became al Qaeda's command and control hub for operations in northeastern Afghanistan. Faqir rolled the TNSM under the banner of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which is led by South Waziristan Taliban command Baitullah Mehsud. Faqir is second in commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan.

Sufi is also the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the radical cleric in charge of the TNSM in the settled districts of Swat and Shangla. Fazlullah seized control of Swat and Shangla in the fall of 2007, prompting the Pakistani military to conduct an operation to eject the TNSM from the districts. Swat was one of the most violent regions in Pakistan in 2007 as Fazlullah's Taliban carried out a guerrilla and suicide campaign against military and civilian targets.

Time reported Sufi was released from custody in late November 2007 as the government was seeking to arrange a peace deal after the TNSM took control of the districts of Swat and Shangla in the Northwest Frontier Province. While it has not been confirmed, it appears Sufi was transferred from a prison to a hospital to receive medical care and was never returned to prison. The Pakistani general in charge of military operations in Swat and a Taliban spokesman confirmed Sufi's release in November 2007.

A new peace accord

The full terms of the peace agreement between the TNSM and the Pakistani government have not been released, but the initial reports indicate the TNSM will halt attacks on the Pakistani military. The TNSM "renounced attacks on government forces in the six-point accord but it will be allowed to peacefully campaign for the implementation of Islamic law in Pakistan," The Washington Times reported based on statements from the spokesman for the Northwest Frontier Province. "He said the pact was signed by Mohammed's deputy and eight other clerics and four officials, including three provincial government ministers."

The Pakistani government signed a peace agreement with the TNSM in Bajaur in March 2007, but the agreement failed to curb attacks in Bajaur and the wider Northwest Frontier Province. The TNSM's takeover in Swat and Shangla was facilitated by the TNSM in Bajaur and in other tribal agencies and provincial districts.

Similar peace accords were signed with the Taliban in North and South Waziristan tribal agencies and in the district of Swat. The Taliban used these peace accords to consolidate power throughout northwestern Pakistan. This allowed al Qaeda to establish training camps throughout the region.

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Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.

Trading Taliban leader for "peace"

The release of other senior Taliban leaders may be forthcoming. The Taliban have called for the release of Sufi along with Maulana Abdul Aziz, the radical leader of the Red Mosque, and "five Afghan Taliban and the three men arrested on charges of allegedly plotting Benazir Bhutto's assassination - Aitzaz Shah, Hussnain and Rafaqat," the Daily Times reported. The Taliban are demanding their release in exchange for Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan.

Azizuddin was kidnapped in February 2008 while traveling through the Khyber tribal agency on his way to Kabul. The Taliban demanded the government release Mansoor Dadullah, the former military commander of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, the former defense minister for the Taliban, is also in Pakistani custody. Obaidullah was captured by Pakistani security forces in March 2007 and released in November the same year in exchange for Pakistani soldiers captured by Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistan rearrested Obaidullah in February 2008.


See The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History for more information on the rise of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and the peace agreements signed between the government and the Taliban.



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READER COMMENTS: "Pakistan releases Taliban leader, signs peace deal with outlawed Taliban group"

Posted by KW64 at April 21, 2008 11:15 PM ET:

It seems like the new government is just as favorably inclined toward the militants as we feared they might be during the recent election. The heads of the two leading parties in addition to having a history of genuflecting to the militants aren't well disposed to the US either.

I do not know what spin people will choose to put on this but releasing the high level terrorist commanders at the same time the militants are claiming they will cut the supply routes from Peshawahr to Afghanistan doesn't sound very promising for the GWOT to me. Let's hope the army is not inclined to give away the store and can stand up for some sort of security effort in the NWFP and at least make an effort to keep the supply routes open.

Posted by Marlin at April 21, 2008 11:28 PM ET:

Syed Saleem Shahzad sees the hand of al-Qaeda in the negotiations.

In this regard, the Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party has promised local tribes implementation of the Islamic way of living in the tribal areas and in the Swat Valley, but in return the tribals must expel foreign elements. Negotiations were in their final stages for an agreement to expel Afghan Taliban commanders and Pakistani Punjabi jihadis from Khyber and Bajaur agencies.

The release of the video of the captured Tariq has all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda's strategic planners, indicating that they have taken over the Taliban-led tribal guerrilla war, particularly as it affects Pakistan.

[...]

This domestic issue is now overshadowed by the Tariq affair. The government has to consider whether it should abandon the dialogue process half way through and start highly unpopular military operations in the tribal areas. Yet to bow to the demands of the militants would also be unpopular, and would certainly anger the United States, which has already hinted strongly that it will take matters into its own hands to crack down on militants in Pakistan if Islamabad wavers.

Asia Times: Pakistan faces a lose-lose situation

Posted by Marlin at April 22, 2008 8:58 AM ET:

The negotiating terms between the Taliban and the Pakistani government are evolving over time.

Militants holding Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan have dropped their demand for the release of a detained Taliban leader, but insist that the government should free at least five of their colleagues before they would let Tariq Azizuddin go.

[...]

"The demand for the release of Taliban leader Mullah Obaidullah had figured earlier also during negotiations for the release of over 200 army hostages. But they realised that this was something that was not open to negotiations and they relented," the source said.

"The militants reiterated the same demand and were clearly told that it was non-negotiable and they have dropped the demand," the source, privy to negotiations, said. He said that the militants were now seeking the release of their comrades, including an Afghan man.

He, however, denied that the militants were demanding the release of Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz or some other people mentioned in various press reports.

He was optimistic that the matter would soon be resolved.

"The militants appear to be in a hurry as they seem to be worried about the ambassador's health condition."

Dawn: Ambassador's captors drop key demand

Posted by ST333 at April 22, 2008 2:06 PM ET:

Peace Agreement=Pakistan is militarily inept