The Pakistani government and the Taliban appear close to signing the next round of “peace” accords to end the fighting in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan’s Interior Minister stated a deal can be made with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, while Baitullah announces a cease-fire in northwestern Pakistan.
Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz has ordered the formation of a peace jirga, or committee, in order to conduct official talks with the Taliban and Baitullah. “The government, in collaboration with a jirga consisting of influential and local people from the Fata and the Frontier regions, would soon take measures for sustainable peace in the tribal areas,” said Nawaz.
Nawaz claimed the government was operating from a position of strength due to military operations. “The demand of initiating a peace process was made by the Mehsuds, who are on the run after being crushed by the security forces in Waziristan,” Nawaz said. “[Baitullah] Mehsud has no choice but to agree on the peace deal. It’s a matter of his survival.”
The prospect of peace negotiations became clear after the government halted military operations in South Waziristan on Feb. 2. The military has released 12 “tribal members” detained during military operations and are planning on releasing more. The Taliban in turn will release four captured paramilitary troops from the Frontier Corps.
Baitullah Mehsud, the commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the newly formed umbrella Taliban organization, has declared a unilateral cease-fire. He took credit for the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and has led a suicide compaign and insurgency against the Pakistani government.
“We have announced ceasefire for an indefinite period because the government stopped attacking us,” Maulvi Omar, Baitullah’s spokesman told AFP. “Baitullah Mehsud has ordered his people to stop attacks against Pakistani forces from Waziristan to Swat and other areas of Pakistan. It is not a formal agreement with the government forces but we have done it voluntarily.”
The news of the cease-fire and the formation of a tribal jirga come as a Pakistani military helicopter crashed in South Waziristan. Eight were killed in the crash, including Major General Javed Sultan, the commanding officer of operations in the tribal regions. Two brigadiers, a lieutenant colonel, and three captains were also killed in the crash.
The Pakistani military claimed the crash was not due to Taliban fire, but due to a maintenance issue. It is unclear if the helicopter has even been recovered to conduct an investigation of the cause of the crash.
There is suspicion the helicopter may have been shot down. “Indian security officials tracking developments inside Pakistan said they were inclined to think that the helicopter had been shot down,” The Times of India reported.
While there have been no public reports of Pakistani helicopters being shot down, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal that the Taliban shot down several helicopters down during heavy fighting in North Waziristan last fall. The downing of the attack helicopters forced the military to rely on less accurate airstrikes, such as the bombing that destroyed the historical mosque of the Faqir of Ippi. The destruction of this landmark helped unite disparate elements of the Taliban and contributed to the formation of Baitullah’s Taliban movement.
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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