The Taliban in North Waziristan have ended a peace agreement with the government, putting in jeopardy the military’s plan to isolate Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan.
The Taliban shura, or council, in North Waziristan decided to terminate the 16-month-old peace agreement because the Taliban’s demands that the government withdraw troops from the tribal agency and end the US-led and Pakistan-supported Predator campaign have not been met.
“We will attack forces everywhere in Waziristan unless the government fulfills these two demands,” said Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban.
The announcement took place just one day after the Taliban ambushed a military convoy in the town of Wacha Bibi near the main town of Miramshah in North Waziristan. The military claimed that 16 soldiers and 10 Taliban fighters were killed in the ambush, but security officials put the number at 27 soldiers killed, according to a report in Dawn.
“The place where the convoy had been attacked was littered with wrecked army vehicles,” local tribesmen told Dawn.
In early 2008, the government signed a peace agreement with North Waziristan Taliban leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Saddiq Noor, and the powerful Haqqani family after the Army was defeated by Baitullah Mehsud in neighboring South Waziristan.
Under the agreement, the government withdrew forces from the tribal agency and returned weapons to the Taliban. In exchange, the Taliban promised to halt attacks against security forces, prevent al Qaeda from sheltering in the region, and end cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. The Taliban did not live up to the agreement.
Military’s plan to isolate Baitullah Mehsud in doubt
The Taliban’s dissolution of the North Waziristan pact may have damaged the Pakistani military’s strategy to isolate and attack Baitullah Mehsud.
The military and the government have signaled from the onset of the operation in South Waziristan that Baitullah was the target, while they have ignored Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and South Waziristan commander Mullah Nazir [see LWJ report, Analysis: Waziristan operation to focus on Baitullah Mehsud]. Just yesterday, the government issued bounties for Baitullah and 11 of his deputies, but did not list Bahadar, the Haqqanis, or Nazir among the wanted.
Today the military publicly stated that Baitullah was the only target of the operation, despite the fact that he, Nazir, and Bahadar openly formed an alliance to defend against military incursions into the tribal areas. In February of this year, the three Taliban warlords formed the United Mujahideen Council at the behest of Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and the Haqqanis.
“When we do move in, it must be only against Baitullah and his group. We cannot afford to provoke a tribal uprising,” Major General Athar Abbas, the chief military spokesman, told the Washington Post.
The Pakistani military appears to be limiting the operation to preserve its option of “strategic depth” as well as out of concerns of overstretching the military.
Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and Nazir are considered “pro-government Taliban” because they focus their operations against Coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The government has also refused to deploy additional troops from the eastern border with India, despite an ongoing offensive in the Swat Valley that has occupied tens of thousands of troops.
“We cannot and will not do it,” Qamar Zaman Kaira, the Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said at a press conference, referring to moving forces westward.
Kaira also attempted to play down recent comments by President Asif Ali Zardari, who said that India is no longer a threat to Pakistan.