Just 10 days after the Pakistani military launched an offensive to clear the Taliban from South Waziristan, the fighting has been put on hold to conduct peace talks. Meanwhile, the Taliban is conducting internal negotiations with Mullah Nazir for all pro-Uzbek Taliban leaders to return to South Waziristan.
The military announced the South Waziristan cease-fire on Feb. 2. “Negotiations are underway at the time,” Geo TV reported based on an official statement from a Pakistani Army colonel. “If the talks bear no fruits, then the Pakistan Army is fully geared up to undertake full-fledged military operations in Sararogha and Ladha.”
Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of Taliban in Pakistan and powerful South Waziristan leader in the Mehsud tribe, has been the main target of the operation. The government claims the operation has led to more than 500 square kilometers “cleansed” of Taliban presence and hundreds of Taliban have been killed, with few soldiers killed.
The offensive began after the Taliban overran two military forts and stepped up attacks on outposts and convoys in the tribal agency. The Saklatoi Fort has since been retaken. The Sararogha Fort still appears to be under Taliban control. The Taliban captured the outpost at Sararogha during a military-style assault on Jan. 16. The Taliban also attacked the Ladha Fort several times but failed to overrun the military base.
Baitullah has been the main target of the military operation. He has been behind a concerted suicide bombing campaign throughout Pakistan and was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
While the government is negotiating with the Taliban, the Taliban is working to mend internal rifts within the organization in South Waziristan. “A three-member delegation of ‘the Islamic Emirate’ was talking to Maulvi Nazir in Wana to broker a deal between him and pro-Uzbek commanders,” the Daily Times reported. The Islamic Emirate was formed in South Waziristan after the government negotiated a peace accord with the Taliban and al Qaeda in April 2006.
While Nazir shelters senior Arab al Qaeda leaders and financiers, leaders of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe oppose the presence of Uzbeks in the tribal regions. The negotiations are designed to allow South Waziristan Taliban leaders that support Uzbek fighters to return to the agency.
Nazir led two “offensives” against Uzbek al Qaeda forces over the past two years. The latest action occurred in early January 2008 after forces from rival Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud executed eight members of a peace jirga. Nazir ordered all Mehsud clansmen to leave Wana and formed a Lashkar, or tribal force, of 600 men. But a promised offensive against Baitullah’s forces failed to materialize, even after the military struck on Jan. 24.
In neighboring North Waziristan, a suicide bomber killed six paramilitary troops and policemen during and attack on a check post. This comes one day after it was confirmed senior al Qaeda commander Abu Laith al Libi and 12 other Arab and Central Asian al Qaeda fighters were killed in an airstrike in the tribal agency.
The al Libi attack occurred a little more than a mile from a Pakistani military base. “Security forces were largely confined to their bases and main roads through North Waziristan, with scant capacity to venture into villages,” the International Herald Tribune reported. The Pakistani government is also holding peace talks with the Taliban in North Waziristan.
The government inked peace accords with the Taliban in North and South Waziristan in 2006, but this only cemented the rise of the extremist forces in the agencies. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terror groups operate at least 29 training camps in North and South Waziristan alone.
See The Fall of the Northwest Frontier Province for the full history of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal regions and beyond.
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