NWFP news

Baitullah Mehsud talked to reporters on Saturday1 and denied his involvement in the Benazir Bhutto assassination and the kidnapping of Tariq Azizuddin, Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan.
Zardari talked about a “difference of opinion” between Pakistan and the US on how to deal with active militants in the area2:

“There is a position in America which (Democratic presidential front-runner Barack) Obama holds that if they have actionable intelligence, they should have a right to strike,” Zardari said.

“We disagree with that position and we just want to make sure that if there is actionable intelligence available, then we will strike. That’s where there is a difference of opinion. That’s something I’d like to work upon,” he told PTI in an interview.

This column3 in The Post by Musa Khan Jalalzai discusses the impact of the increase in violence in Pakistan on the security of Afghanistan. According to him, the fighting in Waziristan and Kurram agency have compelled thousands of people to flee from those regions to either Afghanistan or Punjab.

This column4 in The News by Khalid Aziz is from May 19, but it has a lot of interesting insights into the situation. He argues that the Pakistan government needs to develop a more holistic counter insurgency strategy like the US or India and that by 2006, the Pakistan military was certain that there was no purely military solution to the problem in the tribal areas. He contrasts the negotiations in Swat, which are taking place step by step, with the military’s unilateral actions in Waziristan which have resulted in the release of many prisoners without a written agreement being signed. About Swat, he has this to say:

The former Wali of Swat had built an elaborate system of governance based on cooptation of religious scholars in the judicial system. He was a wise statesman; he employed the religious scholars for dispute resolution and as consultants to the normal Swat courts. It was ensured that cases were disposed quickly through summary proceedings. Redressal of wrong was quick and the process was comparatively cheap.

The people of Swat lost all this, when the state was merged. During the negotiations, the militants requested to be helped in getting a quick and a cheap dispute resolution system more in tune with their past experience and were thus willing to adopt the 1999 Adal Regulation, which is already on the statute books.
Unfortunately, there is a large gap in the civil-military relationship in Pakistan. Once this is recognized and steps taken to reduce it, Pakistani society would be able to develop a COIN strategy. Existence of such a framework would not only better manage the insurgency but will also permit Pakistan’s allies to recognize the local issues and act collaboratively.

Today, unfortunately the policies of Pakistan and her allies play into the hands of the militants. The future does not lie in acrimony and accusations but in developing a robust strategy which looks at insurgency regionally. There is still time for them to withdraw from the precipice and the deal with the problems holistically. Islamabad must not commit the folly of ignoring the equally important life and death struggle arising from the raging insurgency because it is dealing with other matters.

1 “No link with BB murder, Ambassador’s kidnapping: Baitullah”. Online International News Network. May 24, 2008.
2 “Pak, US differ on tackling militants in tribal belt: Zardari”. The Hindu. May 24, 2008.
3 Jalalzai, Musa Khan. “Pak-Afghan security situation — I”. The Post. May 24, 2008.
4 Aziz, Khalid. “The march of folly”. The News. May 19, 2008.


US response to Swat and FATA negotiations

There has not been an official statement from Washington regarding the peace pact between the NWFP government and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, but both the White House and Congress are extremely critical of the federal government’s negotiations in Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which have been going on in parallel. This response is summarized comprehensively by Anwar Iqbal in an article in today’s Dawn4:

At a special hearing on Fata at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Republican and Democratic lawmakers put their differences aside in urging the administration to use its influence and persuade Pakistan to call off the talks.

The US media and think tanks are already opposing the talks and questioning Washington’s wisdom in providing military and economic assistance to a government which is making peace overtures to America’s enemies.

The article also contains a statement John Kerry which really highlights the differences between the US and Pakistan in their policy aims for the tribal areas:

In the Senate, Senator John Kerry, a former Democratic presidential candidate, initiated the debate on Pakistan’s peace talks with the tribal militants when he recalled that during his meetings with Pakistan’s new leaders in February, he realised they had a very different understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat in Fata than the United States.
“In two days of meetings, Osama bin Laden’s name was hardly ever mentioned. Instead, the Pakistanis are focused on confronting a growing domestic Pashtun insurgency led by Baitullah Mehsud,” he said

There is a brief summary of negative reactions to the Swat deal at the end of this CBS News article1:

Washington was officially reserving judgment on the deal. The Associated Press reported that State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, when pressed for comment Wednesday, said simply: “We’ll see.”

This ABC News article2 has a similar statement from former Clinton chief counter-terrorism advisor, Richard Clarke:

“While the deal sounds good, it’s likely to be implemented badly,” said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former White House counterterrorism chief. “What this means is that the United States will continue to be threatened by an al Qaeda that has a safe haven where it can attract people from around the world, be trained and equipped and sent out to the United States and other countries around the world.”

The NWFP government is very conscious of the need to put as good a spin on the truce as possible. The NWFP Minister for Information and Inter-Provincial Coordination, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, urged members of the media3 to write favourable editorials highlighting the positive results of the agreement.

The interesting thing about Hussain’s remarks was his insistence on the differences between Swat and FATA:

The Information Minister said the situation of Swat was different from the restive areas of FATA and international community, which is expressing some concerns over the pact, will accept it with passage of time as it in the interest of every body.

This is what he had to say about the federal government’s much more controversial agreement with the followers of Baitullah Mehsud in Waziristan:

Asked about talks with militants in FATA, the Information Minister said that tribal had rendered great sacrifices during the creation and strengthening of Pakistan and said that peace can be restored in the troubled areas of FATA if the federal government take NWFP government on board in process of negotiation.

This attempt to distance the NWFP government from the FATA negotiations is not surprising since the US has taken a much firmer stance on FATA and has not yet officially commented on Swat.

1 Bokhari, Farhan. (May 22, 2008). Pakistan Signs Truce With Militants. CBS News.
2 Khan, Habibullah and Peters, Gretchen. (May 22, 2008). U.S. Officials Call Pakistan Deal ‘Bin Laden Victory’. ABC News
3 (May 22, 2008). Media, intelligentsia urged to positively highlight Swat peace pact.. Associated Press of Pakistan.
4Iqbal, Anwar. (May 22, 2008). US wants Baitullah arrested, talks abandoned. The Dawn:

Damadola after the NATO missile strikes

BBC Urdu Service reporter Rifatullah Orakzai has an article on the BBC website about his recent trip1 to Damadola in Bajaur district — the target of last week’s missile strikes by NATO.

We soon learned that after the missile strike, the militants had cordoned off all roads to the house that was hit, and allowed no one close to the site until the premises had been “cleared”.
So there is no way of knowing who was killed in the attack, and whether any foreign al-Qaeda militants were among the dead.
Taleban militants appear to be in complete control of two Bajaur sub-dsitricts, Mamund and Salarzai, and people seem to be reluctant to express their opinions freely.
There were hundreds of people as well as armed militants at the scene of the missile strike. They were unanimous in their condemnation of Nato troops for carrying out the attack.

The article notes that this is the third time in two years that Damadola has been targetted by US planes. A few weeks ago, I read a profile of the Tehrik-e-Taliban2 by Hasan Abbas in the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. In his profile of Baitullah Mehsud, Abbas points out that:

He came to prominence in February 2005 when he signed a deal with the Pakistani government that it termed as his surrender, although he interpreted it as a peace deal in the interests of the tribal regions as well as Pakistan.18 As part of the deal, he had pledged not to provide any assistance to al- Qa`ida and other militants and not to launch operations against government forces. The deal was short lived, and since 2006 he has virtually established an independent zone in parts of South Waziristan Agency which is widely believed to be a sanctuary for al-Qa`ida and the Taliban. In private discussions, Pakistani officials also blame the United States for direct military operations in FATA, leading to the collapse of some deals.

1 Orakzai, Rifatullah. (May 19, 2008). No easy answers after Bajaur raid. BBC South Asia
2 Abbas, Hasan. (January 2008). A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. CTC Sentinel Vol 1. Issue 2.

Too many concessions too quickly.

The Peshawar-related headlines in The News today illustrate the dangers of a group entering into negotiations unprepared and being forced into a weak position very quickly. While the ANP, leader of the coalition governing the NWFP, complains how it was “kept in the dark by the Federal Government and intelligence agencies regarding peace talks and deals signed with militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas”1, Baitullah Mehsud’s spokesman Maulvi Omar rationalizes the unbelievable fact that the Tehrik-e-Taliban is simultaneously engaging in peace talks with the government and bombing army-run bakeries by saying “We are still sincere in our peace initiative with the government and want to work with it for a durable peace in the region. But, we had made it clear very earlier that if the government took any action against our people, we will be justified in showing reaction in their respective areas”2

Dawn has a great editorial by Khadim Hussain3 about the impact, on the judicial system, of the government’s possible promulgation of the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Ordinance 2008 in the Malakand division of the NWFP:

District and sessions judges, according to the draft, would be called ‘zilla qazis’, additional sessions judges ‘izafi zilla qazis’ and senior civil judges would be ‘aala qazis’. The advice of the ‘muaavin qazi’ would be binding on the courts. Appeal against a judgment would not be made in the Peshawar High Court or the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Instead, an appellate Sharia court would be established at the divisional level. The said ordinance was first promulgated in 1995 after the stand-off between the security forces and the defunct Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM), revised again in 1999 and now — for the third time — being promulgated in 2008.

He notes the biggest irony of all — that this is happening after the people of Malakand voted for secular and liberal parties over the ruling religious coalition, the MMA.

By acquiescing in to the demands of the militants for the promulgation of the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl Ordinance 2008 in the Swat valley and other parts of Malakand division, the government has indicated that it might give larger space to the extremist minority there than what it deserves.

1 (May 20, 2008). ANP feels left out. The News.
2 Yusufzai, Mushtaq. (May 20, 2008). Tehrik-e-Taliban claims Mardan suicide bombing. The News.
3 Hussain, Khadim. (May 20, 2008). The Fate of Swat. The Dawn.

Another D-Day for Pakistan over militants

Pakistani security forces last week blocked the main artery into the South Waziristan tribal area from Afghanistan. The writer argues that the Taliban needs to keep supply lines open in order to move more men across the border into Pakistan. By keeping up the fighting, the militants hope to derail the US and Pakistan’s original plan for dealing with the Taliban which was to “chop off” the more hardline elements through special operations by US-trained Pakistani units and then leave the local Jirgas to attempt to find a middle ground with the remaining, more moderate elements. Unfortunately, the military operations in Swat and Al-Qaeda’s “chaos strategy” after the Lal Masjid operation has put a halt to these plans and the Pakistan government is now faced with the decision of how far to go to against people like Mehsud.

Article: Another D-Day for Pakistan over militants
Author: Syed Saleem Shahzad
Publication: The Asia Times Online