One day after the Bajaur Taliban declared a unilateral ceasefire, the Pakistani Army ordered a four-day halt to operations in the tribal areas.
Faqir Mohammad, a deputy to Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and the leader of forces in Bajaur ordered a unilateral ceasefire on Feb. 23. Faqir made the announcement on his illegal FM radio station.
The ceasefire was ordered because it was “in the interest of Pakistan and our region,” Faqir said, according to the BBC. “We advise our people not to take action against security forces. Pakistan is our country and the Pakistan army is our army.”
“We don’t want to fight the army, but some elements have been creating misunderstandings between us,” Faqir said. He also denied that foreign fighters were present in Bajaur and promised to “take action against them” if any were found.
Faqir is a close ally of al Qaeda and has known to have sheltered Ayman al Zawahiri. Several senior al Qaeda leaders have been killed in US airstrikes in Bajaur, including Abu Sulayman Jazairi, al Qaeda’s former external operations chief. Bajaur has served as al Qaeda’s command and control hub for operations across the border in northeastern Afghanistan.
Faqir warned that if US airstrikes continue, his forces would “avenge them by attacking Western troops inside Afghanistan.”
Pakistani Army reciprocates
The Pakistani Army reciprocated the unilateral Taliban ceasefire with orders to halt the seven-month old offensive. The move was made as a “goodwill gesture” towards the Bajaur tribes, the agency’s political agent said. The tribes said they have engaged Faqir and are working to put an end to the fighting.
The Army’s ceasefire came at a curious time. On Feb 23, the military claimed a major victory by seizing the villages of Barchina and Charmang, both which control one of several valleys that lead to Afghanistan.
Frontier Corps Inspector General Major General Tariq Khan boasted that Bajaur would be cleared of the Taliban by mid-March. “We should secure Bajaur valley, where the paramilitary and army have so far lost 84 troops and officers and killed some 1,800-plus foreign and local militants since September 8 last year,” Tariq said. The military previously claimed Bajaur would be secured by the end of September 2008.
Tariq also suggested that NATO secure the Afghan side of the border as the Bajaur Taliban consists of foreign fighters.
“The Taliban we are fighting now include only a few locals most of them are foreigners coming from across the border,” Tariq said. “They are Arabic-speaking. We have picked up some Sudanese and (other) people who are different, not the same.” Tariq made these comments despite Faqir Mohammed’s admission that his local Taliban forces have been fighting the Pakistani military.
The Bajaur ceasefire takes place as another ceasefire is in effect in Swat. Mullah Fazlullah, the Swat Taliban leader, is negotiating with Sufi Mohammed, his radical Islamist father-in-law who is acting on the behest of the government to end the fighting in Swat and implement sharia, or Islamic law in the greater Malakand division.
Also the three major Taliban groups in North and South Waziristan united over the past week. Baitullah Mehsud, the overall leader of the Pakistani Taliban, put aside differences with rivals Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar to form the Council of the United Mujahideen at the behest of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.
Peace agreements have united, not divided the Taliban
The Pakistani government has defended the peace agreements with the Taliban and claimed these agreements are, in the words of Foreign Minister Shah Mehmmood Qureshi, a “local solution to a local problem.” The belief is these deals will cause rifts between the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban and will isolate al Qaeda. Some analysts claim the creation of the Council of the United Mujahideen is evidence of this, as North and South Waziristan factions are uniting to make up for a theoretical split with the Swat and Bajaur Taliban.
But there is no evidence the Taliban has split. Baitullah Mehsud agreed to the Swat negotiations. There is no word on Baitullah’s stand on the Bajaur talks, but he has supported prior peace agreements and in fact has his own agreement with the government. Fazlullah and Faqir remain the two senior most leaders in Baitullah’s unified Taliban organization.
During the past peace agreements struck with the Taliban in 2006, 2007, and 2008, the government claimed the deals would localize the problems and divide the Taliban. But the agreement has had the opposite effect.
A multitude of disparate Taliban groups formed the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan in December 2007 at the behest of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden. Taliban groups began to coordinate operations in the region, while elements of some Taliban forces were integrated into al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army.Al Qaeda training camps and safe houses popped up throughout the region.
Meanwhile, the local Taliban groups consolidated control over the regions ceded by the government and pushed the insurgency into the Northwest Frontier Province.
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