Pakistan close to inking peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud

Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the tribal areas and the NWFP. Click to view.

The Taliban have freed Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan after three months of captivity as negotiations for the military to withdraw from the tribal areas progress. Ambassador Tariq Azizuddin was freed late May 16 as the Pakistani Army has begun withdrawing its forces from South Waziristan and a series of prisoner exchanges have occurred between the military and the Taliban.

The government denied Azizuddin was released as a result of a deal with the Taliban. “His recovery last evening is purely a result of law enforcement efforts,” said Rehman Malik, an adviser to the interior minister.

Azizuddin, along with his bodyguard and driver, was kidnapped by the Taliban on Feb. 11 as he headed to Kabul through the Khyber Pass. The Taliban demanded the release of Mansour Dadullah, the former Taliban commander of southern Afghanistan who was dismissed by Mullah Omar.

One month ago, Azizuddin was seen on a Taliban videotape asking the government to “do all they can to protect our lives and to answer all the demands of the Mujahedeen of Taliban in order to secure our release.” The release of Azizuddin is a sign negotiations between the Taliban and the government are nearly completed.

The Army withdraws from South Waziristan

As Azizuddin was released the Pakistani Army started withdrawing its forces from the Mehsud tribal regions in South Waziristan. The Pakistani government has been in negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, the umbrella Taliban organization that united movements in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province.

The military pulled back its forces from the Chag Malai, Spinkay Raghzay and Kotkai areas in South Waziristan, which are “strategic positions in the Mehsud area,” according to Dawn. The military said the units were not withdrawing but were being “relocated and readjusted to allow displaced people to return to their homes.”

Baitullah fought pitched battles with the military in South Waziristan in January. The Taliban overran two military forts in Saklatoi and Sararogha, and fought the Pakistani Army to a standstill. Baitullah has been behind a concerted suicide bombing campaign throughout Pakistan in 2007 and was behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Prisoner swaps underway

Prior to the Army withdrawal from South Waziristan, the Taliban and the military were exchanging prisoners. The Taliban claimed to have upwards of 80 security personnel in captivity, while the government has arrested scores of Taliban fighters during military operations.

In the latest prisoner swap, 23 Taliban fighters and six security personnel were exchanged. Two other exchanges are said to have taken place. The government insists no foreign al Qaeda fighters were freed. But the government has a history of releasing al Qaeda operatives as part of prisoner exchanges.

taliban-presentation-thumb.JPG

Multimedia presentation of the senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Click to view.

Negotiations continue despite Taliban attacks in Afghanistan

The Pakistani ruling political parties signaled they were willing to negotiate a peace accord with the Taliban prior to winning the election in February. The Awami National Party, a secular Pashtun party opposed to military action against the Taliban, won the provincial election in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani People’s Party, which controls the federal government, has acceded to the Awami National Party’s wishes to negotiate with the Taliban.

Less than two months after winning the election, the government started talks with the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law) in the Malakand Division, which consists of the districts of Swat, Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Buner, and Chitral. The TNSM, known as the “Pakistani Taliban,” provided ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent over 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001.

A deal was struck with the TNSM on April 20. The government freed Sufi Mohammed, the ideological leader of the TNSM and one of the most dangerous Taliban leaders in the Northwest Frontier Province. Sufi vowed to continue to push for the imposition of sharia law in the Malakand Division.

Negotiations with Baitullah began shortly after the agreement with the TNSM was inked.

But the peace deal with the TNSM and the deal being negotiated with Baitullah do not require the Taliban to stop attacks in Afghanistan. During interviews with The New York Times, Pakistani leaders made it clear the government is not concerned with halting attacks inside Afghanistan.

“Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side,” Owari Ghani, the governor of the Northwest Frontier Province told The New York Times. “Pakistan is a sovereign state. NATO is in Afghanistan; it’s time they did some soldiering.”

The Taliban has insisted it would continue to strike at NATO and Afghan forces inside Pakistan, using the tribal areas as a safe haven. According to Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar, “the Taliban would not give up resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan under any possible agreement with the Pakistan government,” BBC Urdu reported. “It was the Taliban’s religious obligation, as Muslims, to evict occupying foreign forces from Afghanistan.”

Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM in Bajaur and the deputy leader in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, said attacks would continue despite any peace agreement. He also threatened to attack American soil. “This is jihad for us, and we fully know the price we have to pay for fighting aggressors,” Faqir said during a rally for Taliban fighter killed in a US airstrike this week. “America martyred our people and the blood of our brothers will not go to waste. God willing, we will avenge it by targeting America.”

Cross-border attacks from Pakistan into Afghanistan have more than doubled over the past month since negotiations began. “NATO and the United States say cross-border attacks aimed at Afghan and NATO troops have risen from 20 a month in March 2007 to 53 last month,” The New York Times reported. “The United States is particularly concerned about the attacks because they appear to be aimed at Canadian and Dutch troops, whose governments are under pressure to withdraw from the NATO war effort.”

Attacks continue in Pakistan

While attacks have increased in Afghanistan, the violence is down in Pakistan. Prior to a cease-fire in February and the onset of negotiations in March, the country experienced scores of major suicide attacks. The large-scale suicide attacks have ceased, but the Taliban is still conducting smaller suicide and conventional attacks against government forces in the tribal areas.

On May 16, the Taliban beheaded a Pakistani soldier in Bajaur and killed two security officials in a roadside bomb attack in Kohat. The government has been fighting pitched battles with the Taliban in Darra Adam Khel as the Taliban closed down the Indus Highway, the major north-south artery in the Northwest Frontier Province.

The Taliban has refused to abide by past peace agreements. The old Pakistani government attempted to placate the Taliban with negotiations in 2006, 2007, and early 2008, but these attempts failed to quell the violence. Peace agreements were signed with the Taliban in South and North Waziristan in 2006 and in Bajaur, Mohmand, and Swat in 2007. The Taliban took advantage of the peace deals to expand its control throughout the tribal agencies and the settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. The Taliban openly took control of Swat and neighboring Shangla in October 2007, prompting the Pakistani military to intervene.

Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terror groups maintained 29 training camps in North and South Waziristan alone as of the summer of 2007. The numbers are not available for the other tribal agencies and the Northwest Frontier Province.

For details on the proposed peace agreement in South Waziristan, see Pakistan is negotiating a new peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud.

See The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan: An Online History for more information on the rise of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and the peace agreements signed between the government 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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11 Comments

  • jay says:

    with all due respect to mr. roggio, knowing how the pashtuns do business, he could have written this article three weeks ago.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    With all due respect to jay, I pretty much did:
    //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/04/pakistan_is_negotiat.php
    Or in February:
    //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/02/pakistans_interior_m.php
    I could go on…
    I was pointing out that the latest signs – the release of Azizudin, the prisoner swap, and the withdrawal fo the Army from South Waziristan show that this deal is almost done.

  • Michael says:

    Jay,
    Bill was ahead from the start. Including a debate prior to Bhutto’s resurrection in Pakistani politics and her fateful demise.
    If you follow LWJ, you know this to be true.
    If not, you should have read past artilces on Afghanistan by Bill before issuing a needless reprimand as a casual fly by observer.
    Plus, for many reasons, past and present it is still necessary to cover news as it unfolds for the public at large, even if someone as yourself or Bill has more detailed knowledge of local culture, politics and ethnic realities and can deduce the logical outcome.
    News by its very nature is not only for the informed.
    Still, as was stated, it was covered and you failed to do any research.
    Certainly much larger organizations, more powerful, heavey laden with deep pockets and important connections all over the world, with many more feet on the ground have been wrong.
    Mabye, “with all due respect” you can point this out to those MSM publications who failed to do the their due diligence as reporters. And to the academic analyst of large think tanks who dabble in the molding of nations from afar. Without any serious threat to themselves for the consequences they create in millions of lives.
    PMI has been ahead of some of these august institutes in Pakistan. And ahead of them in Iraq. In reporting the news accurately and in timely news about what may occur according to different scenarios. And in identifying repercussions of actions by different players.
    Kudos to Indpendent Journalism and PMI.

  • KW64 says:

    Does Musharraf sign off on such a deal or just the Prime Minister?
    Also in view of the Pakistani government’s lack of boldness in dealing with the Taliban, is it likely they would also lack boldness in dealing with a bombing of the training camps by NATO? Clearly we cannot jeopardize our supply routes through or over Pakistan until we secure other means; so in the past such a move seemed almost suicidal for the mission; but maybe things have changed if they have already ceded control of the area.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    This is no surprise. They gladly took our $10 BILLION, and rolled over to the T/ban-AQ. Bill, if you can answer this question please do. If the Pakistani gov. is not the entity that rules Waziristan, etc., shouldn’t that area, which is governed by T-ban, be considered a hostile government? Legally, is it still part of P-stan? Why do we let them operate with impunity? The decision to cross is going to be made if A-stan is to be stable.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    The problem with the FATA/NWFP is that a counterinsurgency needs to be fought there. We can strike like we have the past few years, and will kill individuals but do little to dislodge the Taliban and al Qaeda.
    Do you advocating US troops invading and occupying the FATA/NWFP? With the current size of the US military? And without the support of the Pakistani government and military?
    The Pakistani government considered the NWFP/FATA its territory. That’s all that counts.

  • Caleb says:

    Two comments, if I might, please. First, in regard to Jay and his comment above, I have a very hard time taking seriously anyone that is either completely ignorant of the rules of capitalization in the English language or else chooses to totally ignore them. What else are they ignorant of or ignoring. This comment pertains ONLY to those whose native language is English, and is not intended to apply to persons posting in English when their native language is some other language.
    My second point is more a question than a comment. Mr. Roggio, do you have any feel for what the Pakistani government’s attitude is going to be if we step up the intensity of our air strikes into the tribal regions, or if we adopted a “hot pursuit” policy with our ground troops? Also, what would the Pakistani government’s attitude likely be if we took steps to protect our supply route through the Kyber Pass, at least until we could supplant it?
    Thanks, Bill, for what you do. You and a hand full of others, like Mike Totten and Mike Yon, are the only “reporters” that I trust for news from where the bullets are flying.

  • jay says:

    Hello Bill (and Michael),
    I certainly apologize to you gentlemen for my ‘tongue in cheek’ comment from yesterday. Actually, this is one of the first websites I read when I log on and I certainly enjoy the informative articles presented. In an awkward way, I was attempting to point out (what everyone already knew) that owing to Pashtun thinking, the end result was obvious. My comment was not intended to be a slam on the writer.
    I am a retired cryptotech and I read nearly every article and comment on this net. In retrospect, I wish I was back in the service helping out the cause.
    As for the other gentlemans assertion that my English skills are lacking, might I ask him this; don’t you have something else better to do? Thanks agan.

  • Cordell says:

    Bill:
    What is the status of the anti-Taliban insurgency in the NWFP? About a year and a half ago, the press reported that local tribes had taken up arms against the Taliban over the killing of village leaders who opposed their edicts, similar to what happened in Anbar with al Qaeda. Moreover, if the Taliban is now the de facto government for the NWFP, why are we not training and supporting an insurgency movement there as we did successfully with the Contras in Nicaragua? One would think that if the Taliban and al Qaeda are tied down fighting a growing insurgency in the NWFP, they would have significantly less time and opportunity to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan. Finally, if the Pakistani government refuses to confront the Taliban in the NWFP, are they at least willing to establish checkpoints on all roads going into the territory to limit the flow of weapons and other lethal supplies to the Taliban? Your report seems to imply that this treaty removes Pakistani control of key choke points.
    Musharraf supposedly did not take stronger, more decisive action against the Taliban because he was too weak politically, a situation that many suggested would be reversed once a popularly elected government took control in Pakistan. Does this new peace treaty with the Taliban therefore suggest a lack of political will on the part of the government or rather continued political weakness? The Taliban-allied parties reportedly fared very poorly throughout the country even in areas where they were supposedly the strongest. Overall, the best explanation for the government’s actions here is that Pakistan is too weak militarily to confront the Taliban on their own turf but fears a political backlash if they ask for US and NATO help. In other words, as long as they feel the Taliban represents no real threat to the government outside the NWFP, doing nothing, i.e. “containment,” seems the safest path politically. Is that your take as well?
    Thanks again for all the hard work of you and everyone else at the LWJ. It makes a considerable difference in understanding our true situation in this crucial war against terrorism.

  • Freedom Now says:

    Between the corrupt PPP and Musharraf the Pakistani Taliban don’t have any worthy opponents.
    When Iraq is satisfactorily stabilized and its security forces are fully self-sufficient, they can start sending troops to Afghanistan and hopefully Pakistan.
    The propaganda value of that alone would be devastating to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
    A new powerful and experienced military ally like that will also result in serious military gains on the ground.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Thanks for answering Bill. I know our ground troops are stretched, but Iam calling for the destruction of the camps in W-stan. By air. No occupation. Wat the P-stani’s will do, I guess they would stop co-operating with our military in A-stan, in terms of moving supply and land routes. We need an alternate route. The Soldiers, Marines, along the border are frustrated. I guess the question is, “wat will be the consequences?”

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