Taliban gain ground as Musharraf focuses on Islamabad


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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



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  • Tommy says:

    I’m shocked Mush hasn’t arrested a few top Taliban leaders yet to calm the US down. But hey, maybe they can’t find any….

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  • MarkJ says:

    Hmmmm. Who know what’s actually going through Musharraf’s head right now? He may just as easily be using the time-honored tactic of “trading space for time.” From his vantage point, Musharraf may believe those lawyers and judges were more of an imminent threat to him than the Taliban. In short, once he tamps down the most immediate problem, he’ll turn and address the Taliban in due course.
    I’d have to pull out a map, and correct me if I’m wrong, but southern Afghanistan will be entering full winter conditions very shortly. I presume much the same can be said for northern Pakistan. If so, I suspect Musharraf believes this fact will significantly slow down further Taliban ops for several months, which, in turn, would give Musharraf time to prepare for a spring offensive and “final solution.”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Musharraf has been trading space for time for over two years now. Read The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History and you’ll see this.
    After the Waziristan Accord it was fashionable to say the US could now strike as Waziristan was no longer part of Pakistan. That never came to fruition either.

  • Ammo Guy says:

    Lots of hand-wringing going on here, but no workable solutions being offered. What should we have done back in 2001? How many of us know what was discussed and agreed to behind closed doors? What is being done right now behind the lines and cloaked in secrecy in Afghanistan and Waziristan? Do any of us know what Musharraf knows and isn’t telling us on this blog, but might be telling GWB on a secure line? I suppose I’m being naive and overly trusting, but until I see the same intel our leaders see, I’m going to have to rely on their wisdom and courage to see it thru – I may not feel the same way about the next administration. BTW, I’m still not pleased with the results of the Dieppe raid, but I’m getting over it. May God bless and protect our soldiers.

  • Chris says:

    The uncomfortable truth is that Pakistan is a bubbling cauldron of islamic radicalism that will not easily be quenched. These rural provinces along the Afghan border are the center of gravity for both the Taliban and the titular head of AQ and will continue to function as sanctuaries and training ground until the US decides to take the initiative and enter these areas. It is my hope that such an offensive could occur with the assistance of the Pakistani forces, tho this is highly unlikely any time soon.
    I do not think that Musharraf has the desire or the capacity to fight a two front war. Clearly this option is fraught with all sorts of problems, but until this happens we will continue to see more of the same.
    It is clearly a detestable situation and we should hope that the more unfriendly elements within the ISI do not take it upon themselves to remove Musharraf. While Musharraf did purge portions of the ISI, my understanding is that the pogroms largely targeted upper management and did not significantly clean house within middle managment and the operational side of the ledger.
    Interestingly, Gen Hamid Gul (former ISI chief) is reported to have been arrested this last Sunday.
    The ISI has a lengthy and checkered past and has demonstrated time and again that elements within the organization are stridently anti American and embrace a salafist view of the world.
    Interestingly, Bernard Henri Levy speculates in his book “who killed daniel pearl?” that Pearl was killed in large part because he was attempting to unravel the AQ Khan story. This may or may not be true, but suffice it to say that there is credible evidence to suggest that at the top levels of the ISI the work of AQ Khan was known and tacitly supported.
    To address MarkQ’s point, I don’t know that we have been played per se. I think the folks who follow this region closely have appreciated the delicate balancing act that Musharraf must walk. The efforts of both AQ and Bhutto are both designed to upend the Musharraf apple cart but with opposing conclusions.

  • underground says:

    This is incredible. When thinking about Pakistan I can’t help but feel we’ve been completely ripped off and I’m not sure if we should blame Musharraf or our own leaders.

  • chris says:

    I’m not sure we should feel ripped off, but I do think we should approach Pakistan with eyes wide open and have a realistic understanding of what we’re dealing with. Clearly, Pakistan (like Saudi Arabia) are places we need to work with b/c they have things we want but we must also realize that often their interests are at cross aims with our own. In both cases we have leadership at high levels within the govt and elsewhere that are complicit in the proliferation of extremist Islamic ideology as well as material support for terrorists.


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