Orakzai goes red. Red agencies/ districts are controlled by the Taliban; purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
Just six days after the Pakistani military launched an offensive against marauding Taliban forces in Hangu, the government has initiated peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The government of the Northwest Frontier Province “authorized the jirga [tribal council] to finalize the terms with Taliban to halt the ongoing violence in the area,” Daily Times reported based on anonymous sources.
The negotiations were confirmed by provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. The provincial government ordered the jirga members to keep the terms of the negotiations secret. The Swat Taliban is said to be facilitating the negotiations.
The Hangu operation
The military moved in 1,500 regular Army forces into the region, backed by tanks, artillery, and helicopter gunships on July 16 after a week of unrelenting attacks by Taliban forces in the region. On July 8, a police force detained seven Taliban fighters, including Rafiuddin, a senior Taliban leader and a deputy of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. Rafiuddin’s group is based out of North Waziristan, which borders Hangu to the south.
The Taliban then launched a siege on the police station where Rafiuddin and the other fighters were held. A force comprised of 400 Taliban fighters surrounded the police station, but dispersed after a Pakistani Army battalion was dispatched to lift the siege. On July 15, an estimated 250 Taliban surrounded a fort in the Shinawarai region and ordered the paramilitary troops to leave.
The Frontier Corps paramilitary troops abandoned the fort, which was subsequently looted and destroyed by the Taliban. The Taliban are said to have captured 29 members of the Pakistani security forces during the past week, and threatened to kill them if extremists in custody were not released. The fate of those captured is unknown.
Hangu is part of a pattern
The initiation of negotiations with the Taliban in Hangu is the latest attempt by the Pakistani government to make peace with the Taliban after conducting show of force operations. The recent military operation and subsequent negotiations in Khyber followed the same pattern.
The Pakistani military launched an operation in the tribal agency of Khyber earlier this month after Taliban incursions into the neighboring provincial capital of Peshawar could no longer be ignored. The military conducted ineffectual sweeps, purportedly to defeat Lashkar-e-Islam, Ansar-ul-Islam, and the Haji Namdar group, all extremist groups with ties to the Taliban.
The operation ended after 10 days, in what the government admitted was a “show of force.” The government also announced the timetable of the operation as soon as it was launched, indicating the operation was not results driven.
The government then initiated peace talks with the Lashkar-e-Islam, and a peace agreement was signed on July 9. The more than 90 extremists captured during the operation were released.
The government indicated further Potemkin operations were in store in the tribal areas and regions in the Northwest Frontier Province. Yesterday, it was reported that Prime Minister Syed Yusaf Raza Gilani and his cabinet were told that more than 8,000 foreign fighters were operating in the tribal areas.
Interior Ministry Adviser Rehman Malik said further operations may be needed. Malik said the problem would require “a short and effective operation like the one in Bara [in Khyber] recently.”
But a report from M. Waqar Bhatti, who recently visited Khyber, shows the operation was anything but effective. Regions of Khyber remain under full Taliban control as security forces are absent.
The Lashkar-e-Islam is enforcing sharia, or Islamic law, and has established a parallel government in contradiction to the peace agreement. Lashkar-e-Islam is forcing families to send one son to fight against the Ansar-ul-Islam, their rival in Khyber. “Their aim: to have full control of the most strategic point along the Afghanistan border,” Bhatti stated.
Khyber is the gateway to Afghanistan. More than 70 percent of NATO’s supplies pass through the Khyber agency. The Pakistani military is only focused on keeping the supply line to Afghanistan open, Bhatti said, noting heavy patrols and check posts on the main road through Khyber.
Pakistan makes deals with the devil
The government continues to sue for peace in the tribal areas. Yesterday, Gilani met with tribal elders from the seven tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber, and North and South Waziristan.
Gilani asked for help in dealing with the rising threat of “militancy” in the tribal areas. “I ask you people to tell me how to deal with elements bent upon militancy,” Gilani said. “I am deadly against use of force but some elements are compelling the government to take harsh decisions.”
But the tribal elders in attendance said negotiations were required “while [the] use of force would further complicate” the situation. The tribal leaders refused to hold the Taliban accountable for problems in the agencies. “Interestingly, the turbaned men, who are known for their straightforward comments, tended to become diplomatic when questioned about the Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud,” Daily Times reported.
A tribal leader in South Waziristan said the situation was stable and ignored questions about the murder and beheadings of tribal elders. A tribal leader in North Waziristan said, “99 percent of the tribesmen were supporting Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Nazir because they considered them loyal citizens of Pakistan.” A Mohmand tribal leader said, “the real Taliban are not bad people” and blamed any problems on “criminals.”
The security situation in northwestern Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated since the government initiated its latest round of peace accords with the Taliban and allied extremists in the tribal areas and settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, Khyber, and Orakzai.
The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established more than 100 terror camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.