Descent into Appeasement

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas. Map from PBS’ Frontline. Click to view.

Written by Bill Roggio and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross for The Weekly Standard magazine.

The good news is that some politicians apparently do keep their promises. Immediately after being appointed Pakistan’s prime minister earlier this year, Yousaf Raza Gilani promised negotiations with the Taliban, saying that his government was “ready to talk to all those who give up arms and adopt the path of peace.” Regional officials echoed his sentiment. He has delivered. The bad news is that such negotiations are eroding Pakistan’s security and creating an increasingly dangerous situation for Americans.

The trouncing of Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s PML-Q party in the country’s February elections signaled a repudiation of his internal policies and his alliance with the United States. Musharraf’s approach to Pakistan’s largely lawless tribal regions–havens for the Taliban and al Qaeda–swung clumsily erratically between mobilizing his forces and entering into unenforceable agreements that eroded his military credibility. Neither tactic did much good, but negotiating with terrorists was the more popular of the two failed policies.

It is not surprising then that Pakistan’s new government launched a round of negotiations with the country’s Islamic extremists. What was unexpected, though, was the scale of the negotiations. Talks have been opened and agreements entered with virtually every militant outfit in the country. But the government has done nothing to answer the problem of the past accords and is again accepting promises that it has no means of enforcing.

The Taliban violated each of the conditions of the now-infamous September 2006 Waziristan accords. It used the ceasefire as an opportunity to erect a parallel system of government complete

with sharia courts, taxation, recruiting offices, and its own police force. Al Qaeda in turn benefited from the Taliban’s expansion, building what U.S. intelligence estimates as 29 training camps in North and South Waziristan alone. And, while even the Waziristan accords paid lip service to stopping cross-border attacks against Coalition forces in Afghanistan, the new negotiations often leave this consideration aside. As North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) governor Owari Ghani recently told the New York Times, “Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side.”

The first in this new round of agreements was struck with the NWFP’s Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (the TNSM or Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) on April 20 in the Malakand Division. The TNSM is led by Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who was imprisoned in 2002 for providing fighters to the Taliban in Afghanistan (as the TNSM continues to do to this day). The Pakistani government and the TNSM entered into a six-point deal in which the TNSM renounced attacks on Pakistan’s government in exchange for the promise that sharia law would be imposed in Malakand. The government also freed Sufi Mohammed.

A month later, Pakistan inked a deal with the Taliban in the Swat district. Led by Mullah Fazlullah (Sufi Mohammed’s son-in-law), they have been waging a brutal insurgency in the once-peaceful vacation spot. (More than 200 Pakistani soldiers and police have been killed since January 2007.) The 15-point agreement between the Pakistani government and the Swat Taliban stipulates that the military will withdraw its forces, and the government will allow the imposition of sharia law, permit Fazlullah to broadcast on his radio channel–which was previously banned–and help turn Fazlullah’s madrassa into an “Islamic University.”

Though the government extracted some concessions from the Taliban, they are so difficult to enforce that Pakistan will likely gain little more than the reintroduction of vaccination programs. (Fazlullah has campaigned against vaccinations in the past, describing them as a Western plot to make Pakistani men impotent.) The promise to close down training camps is certainly suspect.

This week, Pakistan negotiated a peace agreement with a Tehrik-i-Taliban leader in the Mohmand agency. Its terms are similar to the new accords signed with the TNSM and Swat Taliban.

In South Waziristan, the Pakistani government is in the process of negotiating an agreement with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban. He is a longtime adherent of the Taliban’s ideology, frequently visiting Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and appointed by Mullah Omar as governor of the Mehsud tribe. Baitullah Mehsud’s forces are responsible for killing and kidnapping hundreds of Pakistani soldiers, and he has masterminded a suicide-bombing campaign throughout Pakistan. He established the Tehrik-i-Taliban in December 2007 to unite local Taliban movements throughout the tribal areas and the NWFP and is thought to be responsible for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination that month.

While the agreement has yet to be signed, Pakistan’s Daily Times published a draft copy. The draft states that the Tehrik-i-Taliban must eject foreign terrorists (a concession they have ignored in the past) and prohibits them from attacking government and military personnel or impeding the movement of aid workers. In exchange, Pakistan will free Taliban prisoners and withdraw its army from the region. The deal is to

be signed any day.

Pakistan has also started negotiations with the Taliban in the settled district of Kohat. The leaked terms of the proposed agreement are nearly identical to those negotiated with other groups.

This strategy of accelerated appeasement only empowers groups with a history of violence who are devoted to undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty. In addition to creating breathing space for extremists (since it is the militants who determine when an agreement is broken), the accords allow a greater flow of recruits to the training camps and further violence. At best, the politicians are shunting the problems down the road–and these problems will be larger by the time Pakistan is forced to confront them.

The new accords are also a threat to the United States. Baitullah Mehsud has told journalists that “jihad in Afghanistan will continue” regardless of negotiations, a sentiment echoed by other Taliban leaders. As U.S. forces in Afghanistan face increased cross-border attacks, Americans at home should be concerned about the increase in the risk of another catastrophic terrorist attack. The 9/11 Commission Report warned that a terrorist organization requires “time, space, and the ability to perform competent planning and staff work” in order to carry out a 9/11-like attack. Pakistan’s new accords provide al Qaeda and its allies with the requisite time and space.

If another major act of terror hits the United States, it will almost certainly be traced back to the al Qaeda network in Pakistan. Far from addressing the situation, Pakistan’s government is only increasing the dangers that we face.

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31 Comments

  • KW64 says:

    I fear that I have to agree 100% with Bill’s demoralizing assessment.
    All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. The moderate majority of Pakistanis are in the process of legitimating doing nothing.

  • Cajun says:

    Could the long term strategy be to let the frontier bcome so bad that the U.S. will take care of a problem that the Pakistani’s can’t fix. As the U.S. cleans out the problem then they stand back and condemn the imperialist agression. Thus they destroy their enemy, stabilize the country and make the U.S. bear the military, political and financial burden. I’m sure any action on our part would be coupled with billions of dollars of compensatory aid during and after the operation.

  • Sdferr says:

    Cajun, you were thinking of that Peter Sellars classic “The Mouse That Roared” come to life, yes? That movie was funny. This one not so much.

  • KnightHawk says:

    The Pakistani’s can’t fix the problem as it is – that’s why we’re seeing this. I wish they’d just get on with it an cede the entire region and announce it’s no longer part of Pakistan so that we could just get on with the inevitable.
    I wonder what the Indians think of Pakistan’s inability to control it’s own territory from being taken over by known terrorist entities who launch attacks toward neighboring nations.

  • Dan R. says:

    Cajun, that’s basically my thinking as well. Pakistan “makes peace” with the Taliban and so they have no need to keep troops there, leaving the area wide open to US air strikes and special ops missions. But I don’t think you’ll see that Pakistanis “condemning imperialist aggression”. Rather, I think that they’ll stay quiet as church mice. As far as the Pakistanis are concerned, officially they don’t know anything about what we’re doing, preserving their deniability.

  • Red Howard says:

    Dan R. – right on with your assessment. The Paks are clearing out for a reason. All they were doing was creating a lot of confusion anyway and getting in the way. Punjabis are no match for the Pakhtuns. Heck, they had one entire company surrender to the bad guys without even a shot being fired in Waziristan.
    This fight will ultimately be settled by the indigenous Pakhtuns themselves – they have had enough of the foreign militants and their heavy handedness will be the main thrust of a grass roots effort to turn the tide. The militants are already making the same mistakes as AQI in Iraq…Memo to Militants: bad idea sending in a suicide bomber into a tribal jirga – you just pissed off a lot of people – and these dudes really do believe in the “eye for an eye” stuff. That cowardly bombing involving over 1,000 tribal guys could actually turn out to be a tipping point.
    Of course, they will need money and support to pull this off, but not nearly as much as the bad guys do…and this is precisely where we come in. But make no mistake – these guys are very clever and live to fight. I actually think things are looking up, Bill.

  • NS says:

    “I wonder what the Indians think of Pakistan’s inability to control it’s own territory from being taken over by known terrorist entities who launch attacks toward neighboring nations.” – Knighthawk
    Knighthawk, i will tell you how exactly we feel – “here we go again”. This is exactly what they did in Kashmir from the late 90’s right up to 9/11 – the Paki Govt and their military intelligence (ISI) actively helped fuel cross border terrorism . They acted with a lot of impunity as they knew that no one in the world really cared what was going on in Kashmir- unless ofcourse they threatened nuclear war like in 2002 when the attention of the world was focused on stopping an Indo-Pak war from entering into uncharted territory. (Hint – mushroom clouds all over the subcontinent)
    But i want to offer a little more background here – the so called “moderates” in Pakistan dont have any problems whatsoever in treating the Taliban the way they do. It should come as no surprise to any one in India that Pakistan is refusing to act against them. The Taliban were once part of what gave them strategic depth against India until of course 9/11 happened.
    The Pakistanis have also made one more calculation – namely, they dont think its too far away before the US quits in Afghanistan. We already know that NATO is simply unwilling to take the fight to the enemy. the American forces have to do this battle on their own – and the calculation is that America will eventually tire of this war – just as in Iraq. When that does happen, Pakistan wants to make sure that the Taliban goes back to being the strategic ally that they would like it to be.
    For those people who think that Pakistani civilians will sit back quietly when the US airstrikes hit the border areas consistently, think again. When the fighting heats up, so will the demonstrations in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The “imperialist aggression by the Crusader” will be swiftly condemned.
    As an Indian who grew up listenining to the news where an average of 15 people died every day in Kashmir for some time, i am not at all surprised at what is going on. Only this time, the US is at the receiving end. This problem essentially can only be solved by Pakistan, no matter what the US does. And there in lies the problem – the average Pakistani has no qualms about the Taliban but has much more reservations about an aggressive American role in confronting these thugs.
    Remember the demonstrations on the streets against Musharaff ? Where have these demonstrators disappeared now ? When the Govt openly signs a truce with a terrorist leader who may have been behind the Bhutto assasination. They are nowhere to be seen – because the current Government is not seen as a stooge to US interests while Musharaff was perceived as exactly that.
    He must be laughing – look at what Pakistani democracy has wrought – its worse than what Musharraff did or didnt do

  • Neo says:

    I don’t see that Pakistan has any notion of what to do when the Taliban breaks these “peace” agreements. It’s military can carry out only small-scale short-term operations in most of these areas. The government must also appease internal political blocks that refuse to fight, and be wary of sympathetic conservative elements within the government. The critical question this year is how much support does the Taliban have outside of Pashtu areas. That will be key in how much of a disaster this year becomes.
    The best I could see coming out of this is if the government labels treaty violators as “criminals”

  • Neo says:

    NS,
    “But i want to offer a little more background here – the so called “moderates” in Pakistan don’t have any problems whatsoever in treating the Taliban the way they do. It should come as no surprise to any one in India that Pakistan is refusing to act against them. The Taliban were once part of what gave them strategic depth against India until of course 9/11 happened.”

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Red Howard, Dan R.,
    All I can say is the exact same things were said in September 2006, and it never came to pass.

  • Neo says:

    Dan R.
    “But I don’t think you’ll see that Pakistanis “condemning imperialist aggression. Rather, I think that they’ll stay quiet as church mice.”

  • KW64 says:

    Re: NS and Neo comments regarding “moderates” in Pakistan:
    FWIW — The Pakistanis that I have gotten to talk to visiting the US may or may not be representative but I assume they are relative moderates in that they are not openly dogmatically anti-American or insistant on the spread of Islam by military means. Basically they want the US to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al Queda to keep their activities confined to the tribal areas, the Pakistani army to stay in their barracks and the Indians to accept the claim that they have nothing to do with the Kashmiri rebels and their attacks. (One has to wonder if they expect anyone to believe that last one.)But they are clear, they do not want war with India or the US and they were not willing to go to war on the behalf of the jihadi’s on the frontier.
    I think NS may be right that there will be street demonstrations but that would be about it.
    This attitude could well explain Musharaff’s switch after 9/11 to tacit support for the US effort as well as the peace treaties we see being signed now. However, if another really bad event happens due to actions initiated by AQ in the tribal areas, I expect that once again Pakistan will accept foreign action in the tribal areas rather than face an Indian or American war.
    In the meantime, Red Howard’s approach of buying support of the natives against the AQ/Taliban defacto rule in the area may be the only hand we can play other than occasional HV target strikes.

  • Red Howard says:

    Neo – excellent perspective and I agree with everything except maybe that I believe local support for the Taliban in certain FATA areas is starting to weaken a bit based on recent events.
    True, support may still be higher amongst the Afghan Pakhtuns, many of whom emigrated to the FATA in late 70’s/early 80’s, but amongst the indigenous Pathan tribes who have ancestoral roots in the FATA (Afridis, etc), their support of the Taliban is most definitely starting to ebb. It comes up in conversations now whereas six months ago, it never did.
    As I’m sure you already know, in the FATA, local support is directly related to money and the Taliban have all the tribal maliks in their pocket (Bill: per earlier article, guess where a lot of that $45 million went?) while the mullahs are busily brainwashing the children. Neo: you appear to be an expert in the area, so you know the three coveted treasures of the Pakhtun; “zar, zan, zamin” (gold/money, land, women). The local maliks run the FATA, and with these guys, it’s all about the money…sharia is very overrated in this area…I hear this one all the time too: the Baluch get respect, the Punjabis get beat, and the Pathans get the money (rough translation). This may not be as complicated as we think. Just maybe.
    Good post, Neo – more thoughts on this?

  • Red Howard says:

    Bill – agree, but I see a developing situation now where the black turbans are consolidating power and settling in now in the FATA given recent peace agreements. I just think history tells us that the Pathans themselves will eventually rise up against a foreign presence (I consider the Taliban mostly a foreign organization due to Arab/Afghan influence/mentorship). But this will not happen overnight.
    This may be the only hope as I certainly don’t see the Paks or any overt USM presence having any impact in these tribal areas.

  • Trivr says:

    I must say I’m at a loss to understand our objectives here. Any sort of peace deal allowing a safe haven has got to be completely unacceptable, yet we continue to read about these deals month after month as nothing seems to change with little visible objection from our Govt.

  • BillH says:

    Let me begin by saying what an indispensable service Bill Roggio does in bringing depth and solid reporting to a subject that is now lamentably covered in much of the US press.
    Now as to the situation being discussed, I wonder if anyone has any new information vis-a-vis US offers to the Paks to aid in the training of the largely Pashtun Frontier Corps in classic COIN strategy and tactics. Under Mushy they were generally poorly equipped and led (by mostly Punjabi officers).

  • Neo says:

    Red Howard,
    Yes, reports from the area do seem to corroborate that disaffection with the Taliban is fairly widespread amongst local Pashtuns. Of course it does vary from area to area. I couldn’t tell you if it a prominent minority sentiment or a prominent majority sentiment. In SWAT disaffection seems to be a prominent majority sentiment since tourism and contact with the outside world had created improvements in the local economy. The Taliban has taken away the regions economic viability.
    The problem is unless you provide some sort of secure environment this disaffection has no chance to become open resistance. If open resistance only results in your family being raped and killed in front of you, than you won’t resist. At some point loyalty comes into question as groups want to get back to a normal life. Than again, if the core group is strong enough the cost of resistance is too high. That being said, movements such as these have a tendency to be unstable unless they have some sort of sustained outside support. As you have indicated there is plenty of cash involved. Paid for courtesy of Saudi petrodollars (petro-euros).
    It’s kind of an odd situation. Militarily, the Taliban is better off than it has been since the fall of Afghanistan. Politically, things are much less favorable for the Taliban than last year. The Pakistani population doesn’t seem anywhere near any sort of anti-government revolt. For now the Pakistani’s are largely content with a coalition government, especially since the alternative is chaos. I don’t see the government going sour quite this soon. I’m also a little uncertain to what extent these peace treaties are real to the government. The Pakistani Army wasn’t at all happy to be targeted last fall.
    “Neo: you appear to be an expert in the area”

  • Red Howard says:

    Neo: yes, the political and military winds of the Taliban seem to be blowing in opposite directions, and I believe that eventually they simply run out of real estate since I don’t see them establishing a presence past the Durand Line in the East nor back across the Afghan border on the west. With continued HVT missile strikes and a moderately funded Pathan resistance, it could get a bit claustrophic. We’re talking about an area less than the size of Florida.

  • Very informative. It would be nice if the Talib wear out the rug, but remember there is no one there to back them up should they have an “awakening” as there was in first Anbar then Baghdad. I don’t think money and Predator Strikes/HVT raids would be enough.
    Respectfully those that see the Awakening repeating itself may be falling into the trap of fighting the last war.
    Also remember A.Q’s embedded with the Taliban in those areas..and they believe in the far fight (US/UK etc) as opposed to the near fight. They just need a staging area, and now they’ve got one.

  • Neo says:

    Red Howard,
    You’re projecting a little too far forward. I’d be satisfied to know what the respective sides think they are accomplishing.

  • Anthony says:

    hmmm…It looks like we ned to build up our stockpile of cruise missiles again. We are definitely going to need them.
    29 terrorist training camps…half a dozen missiles per camp. Eyes in the sky check for movement, then lob in a few more for good measure.
    Repeat as necessary.

  • KW64 says:

    I greatly admire the work of all the Americans taking risks abroad, and I really appreciate the insight they all give us here Stateside into what is going on through their posts; so I would never presume to tell them anything about how to do what they do, but Just a respectful thought: If I were a “huge turbaned Pathan” bartender at the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawahr who had befriended an American, it may not be healthy for me to have it posted on an open website.
    God Bless You and good fortune.

  • Red Howard says:

    KW64 – absolutely; a good point to always keep in mind, but, unfortunately for him, he is no longer with us in this world, otherwise, I would not have given him the pub.

  • Neo says:

    Red Howard,
    I wasn’t trying to admonish you. I was trying to signal my reluctance to get into the prediction game on Pakistan. As it is, I’ve probably overindulged on that a bit. For Pakistan usually stick with isolating a trend and discussing either how it has been a past factor or may be a future factor. The only time I indulged in prediction on Pakistan I was way off. That was early last fall when the Taliban was really rolling and if they kept up their pace might be able to directly threaten Islamabad. It didn’t happen. Instead of continuing their humiliation of the Pakistani army they got too aggressive. They didn’t need to establish a major presence in SWAT to undermine the place, but gave the army a clear reason to come down on them hard. They started directly bombing the army in a fairly indiscriminant manor making enemies, and finally they made Benazir Bhutto a martyr. Politically Benazir Bhutto was damaged goods. She was scarcely more popular than Musharraf. If she was alive the PPP would have come in a distant second place and Nawaz Sharif and the religious parties would be in the driver seat.
    I indicated a number of times that the Taliban is infatuated with their own capacity for violence. They couldn’t resist going too far and alienating everyone. They still have their original military gains from last year but they failed to capitalize on them politically.
    This year we have plenty of things to discuss. We still don’t know how the government is going to play these peace treaties. The Taliban’s campaign to shut down the Kyber Pass seems to have failed on its first try. Their efforts to infiltrate Afghanistan are not finding the kind of opportunities they had last year. In Pakistan I don’t know if the Taliban can move their military campaign out of Pashtu areas in Pakistan at this point. I do expect much of the real action to be within the government as the sides jokey for position against each other. The Pakistani government is a whole subject in itself.

  • Neo says:

    That was:
    For Pakistan I usually stick with isolating a trend and discuss either how that trend has been a past factor or may be a future factor.

  • Red Howard says:

    Neo: no worries, good buddy – you are right. In this arena, expect the unexpected. I really enjoy reading your perspective on things (others as well). Bill does a great job with this and provides a great forum. Too bad we couldn’t do this over a lamb roast with a bonfire roaring, eh? I look forward to chewing the fat with you over the coming year. I’m out more than I am in though and it will be spotty. Have a great summer, Neo.

  • Let the Punjabis and Pashtu be chewed on for awhile, while we do HVT raids and death from above. And when they ask for help don’t just give cash…start putting SF in a little at a time.
    Further – any border in this war that is not respected or enforced should not be respected by us. They want to give up FATA, we can take a slice as well. We don’t have to occupy, we just need to pursue or raid at will.
    Our main enemy cannot be allowed to have a secure staging area. Clever of them to do it now on a “ally’s” soil rather than an already hostile, pariah power like Taliban Afghanistan.

  • Addendum: I mean chewed by the Takfiri.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    I think we are just putting off the inevitable. The FATA area is governed by a hostile entity, responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the deaths of US Soldiers, Marines. Since they are a hostile gov., they should be dealt with the same way the T-ban was in a-stan. Tell the p-stanis to stay outta the way. They DO NOT govern these areas. Those 30 or so camps should be bombed to dust. P-stan is NOT an ally. No $, military hardware, and I would start talking to India, its long overdue.

  • I think we have been talking a lot to India, just not about this, at least not in public.

  • Turner Bond says:

    If I were a general in the Pakistani military, I would be worried about threatening the $500 to $300 million per year the US has begun paying the military since 9/11. (See this link: //www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/060626_asia_balance_powers.pdf) That’s a bonus amounting to about an eighth of their total military budget. It’s also a bonus that they may want to keep alive with a simmering problem. As long as the Taliban doesn’t overrun the lower part of Pakistan, the Taliban is a cash cow. Not only for what they spend in the local economy, but for the military assistance they bring in from the US. An unresolved simmering conflict with an entity hostile to the west ensures this aid. We’ve also come to authorize substantial sales of our hardware since 9/11. Why would they kill that golden goose by solving the problem for good?
    Drug money from Afghanistan supports AQI/Taliban but I’m wondering if our money isn’t reinforcing a lingering unresolved relationship between the Pakistani military and the Taliban. The Pakistani military is the 7th largest military in the world numbering over a million personnel counting reserves. It needs some equipment grades but it’s not a ragtag force that couldn’t match the Taliban.
    We think we’re buying support for the peace, but we may be buying a greater tolerance for the conflict to keep the hardware flowing. Without clearly defined results and commitments from the Pakistani military we may paying to sustaining our own problems and we may continue to see a lackluster performance from the Pakistani’s.

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