A senior Pakistani military official called two senior Taliban leaders “patriots,” signaling a shift in posture against the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Mumbai terror siege and India’s reaction may lead the Pakistani Army to negotiate peace agreements with the Taliban to free up troops for the eastern border with India.
The official, who was not named, called Taliban leaders Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah “patriots” during a briefing with senior Pakistani journalists, The News reported. He said the military and the Taliban are clashing due to “some misunderstandings.”
“We have no big issues with the militants in Fata [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas],” the official said. “We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.”
Baitullah is the head of the Pakistani Taliban and a warlord in South Waziristan. Baitullah has defeated the Pakistani military in multiple battles the past several years. Fazlullah is the head of the Taliban in Swat, where the government has been fighting to gain control of the region for more than a year.
Taliban groups throughout the tribal areas and the greater Northwest Frontier Province “offered a ceasefire if the Pakistan Army also stops its operations,” The News reported. “The Indian allegations against Pakistan have suddenly forced the military establishment in Pakistan to finally accept that they are not fighting an American war inside the Pakistani territory.”
“Tribesmen” in Taliban-controlled North Waziristan contacted the government last weekend to offer their support to defend Pakistan’s border with India. The North Waziristan leaders said they could raise 3 million tribesmen to fight the Indians. The leaders also “urged the government to move the armed forces to its eastern border in the wake of the aggressive Indian intensions.”
The removal of Pakistani forces from the insurgency-plagued northwest would ease the pressure on the Taliban in Bajaur and Swat, where military operations have been ongoing in months. This would also allow the Taliban to consolidate its power throughout the Northwest Frontier Province.
Indian police and intelligence officials have implicated the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and the criminal network of Dawood Ibrahim, who is based in Karachi, as being behind the 62-hour terror siege of Mumbai last week. Elements of Pakistan’s military and intelligence service have also been fingered in the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistani defense officials threatened to withdraw the 100,000 troops from the northwest last weekend in response to what it perceived as Indian “threats.” The next day, another senior defense official denied the Army was redeploying to the Indian frontier. The Indian Army also denied it was mobilizing its forces on the Pakistani border.
As the rhetoric between the Taliban and the Army cools, a senior Taliban leader threatened to “annex” northwestern Pakistan if the government continues to support the US and NATO. Hakeemullah Mehsud, a senior deputy of Baitullah, demanded the government halt the movement of NATO supplies destined for Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. He also wants the government to end military operations in the northwest.
“His group will capture Pakistan if Islamabad continues to support NATO’s operation in Afghanistan,” Zee News reported. “In fact, Taliban will not hesitate in taking over Peshawar, Hangur, and eventually the whole Pakistan.”
The Pakistani government has inked peace agreements with the Taliban in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province between 2004 and 2008. The agreements broke down as the Taliban violated the terms of the agreements and continued to consolidate more territory under their control. These agreements have ceded the tribal areas and large swaths of the Northwest Frontier Province to the Taliban.
Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other allied terror groups have established more than 150 training camps in Pakistan’s northwest. More camps exist in Baluchistan and in other regions of Pakistan.