Last month the government of Pakistan signed a notorious truce with the tribal chiefs of Waziristan, in which the central government agreed, in effect, to cede the tribal regions to the control of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, in return for a cessation of attacks on the Pakistani army by the Islamists in Waziristan.
Then a few weeks later an apparent coup attempt against Pakistani President Musharraf was foiled. Following an inept rocket attack against the president by an Air Force officer, the government uncovered a network within the ISI (the Inter-Services Intelligence agency) and arrested at least forty conspirators.
Could there be a connection between these two events? The ISI is widely known to be dominated by Islamist elements, and is not at all under the control of President Musharraf. Likewise with Waziristan — the Pakistani army has taken numerous casualties in the tribal region, and has found itself unable (or unwilling) to subdue the Islamist elements and Taliban supporters in their mountain redoubts.
I went browsing through news sources and the Indian blogosphere trying to find the opinions of people closer to the situation and more expert than I am.
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According to DNA India:
The fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, was the key player behind the controversial peace deal between the Pakistan Army and Taliban militia in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of the North Waziristan on the Pak-Afghan border. The deal was signed on September 5.
According to well placed Pakistani intelligence sources, the much-talked peace deal, repeatedly defended by Musharraf during his recent visit to the US was actually signed by the pro-Taliban militants active in North Waziristan and owing allegiance to Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Mullah Omar, always referred to as the “one-eyed spiritual leader” of the Taliban — do the news writers have a shortcut key for the phrase? — allegedly ordered his underlings to sign the deal. The consensus is that he felt he got the better of the fools in Islamabad:
Sources said had the militants not been given a go ahead by Mullah Dadullah, none of them would have agreed to sign the deal.
In return for an end to the US-backed military operation in Waziristan and the release of 165 militants arrested by the Army, the tribal leaders reportedly agreed to halt attacks on Pakistani troops. However, the deal has been widely criticised as over-generous, with no way to enforce the Taliban militants’ promise not to enter Afghanistan to attack the coalition troops.
The United States government, particularly the State Department, played down the truce, saying in effect that it was no big deal. Just a friendly agreement between Pakistan and some Al Qaeda terrorists, you know — what’s to be upset about?
But the counterterrorism and intelligence communities, at least in the publicly available sources, were dismayed, as the Bharat-Rakshak forum noted. Indian counter-jihad bloggers were derisive. Here’s what the blogger Apollo had to say in Desicritics:
Let’s see what the terms of this so called “Peace treaty” are and what they really mean.
1. The Utmanzai tribe of North Waziristan Agency has committed to not attacking personnel of the army and law enforcing agencies, and state properties — [read Pakistan rangers and border guards “guarding” the Pak-Afghan border to prevent the NATO forces from crossing over the border to attack Al-Qaeda in Waziristan. Hmmmm…. I think AQ & Co will “respect” this term] 2. No target killing shall be carried out [Ha ha. They are terrorists. They mostly kill indiscriminately] 3. No parallel administration will be established in the area. [Then who are you signing a “peace treaty” with? Are you not recognising them as a “parallel” administration already?] 4. No cross border movement to Afghanistan for militant activities will be carried out and no ingress in settled areas adjacent to North Waziristan Agency will take place [Translation — NATO forces will not be allowed inside Waziristan] 5. Similarly they have resolved that all foreigners in North Waziristan will leave Pakistan [Al Qaeda get out!], although those who are unable to do so for certain genuine reasons [Wait! Wait! On second thoughts please stay back and enjoy our “hospitality”] shall respect law of the land and abide by all conditions of the agreement. They shall not disturb the peace and tranquility of the area.
The problem of Waziristan has been festering for a long time, at least since elements of Al Qaeda and the Taliban fled there from Afghanistan at the end of 2001. India Forum has been keeping track of the situation, and pointed out this article in Asian Age from last June:
“US counter-terrorism authorities say that the detention of a California-based group of Pakistani men this month underscores a serious problem: the Islamabad government’s failure to dismantle hundreds of jihadi training camps,” the Los Angeles Times said in a report.
Since post-9/11 military strikes against Al Qaeda strongholds in Pakistan’s tribal territories, “the jihadi training effort has scattered and gone underground, where it is much harder to detect and destroy,” the US daily said in a report titled “Terror Camps Scatter, Persist.”
“Instead of large and visible camps, would-be terrorists are being recruited, radicalised and trained in a vast system of smaller under-the-radar jihadist sites.”
“Many United States officials say it is not surprising that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has not cracked down harder on militant groups and what they describe as their increasingly extensive training activities,” it said.
The newspaper said “for years, the ISI itself has worked closely with the groups in training Pakistan’s own network of militants to fight on conflicts in Kashmir and elsewhere, and to protect the country’s interest in neighbouring Afghanistan.
Obviously, the ISI would have no problem with the Waziristan truce. Perhaps the secret codicils to the agreement included a promise by the ISI and their Al Qaeda agents not to harm President Musharraf.
If so, it didn’t take the Islamists very long to break the agreement. Earlier this month, according to the Asia Times, elements of the ISI set out to inflict grievous bodily harm on Pervez Musharraf:
A plot to stage a coup against Pakistan’s President General Pervez Musharraf soon after his recent return from the US has been uncovered, resulting in the arrest of more than 40 people.
Most of those arrested are middle-ranking Pakistani Air Force officers, while civilian arrests include a son of a serving brigadier in the army. All of those arrested are Islamists, contacts in Rawalpindi, where the military is based, divulged to Asia Times Online.
But something about this doesn’t smell right. How could the ISI — the infamous masterminds of so many black ops, right up there with Mossad and the KGB — be so amateurish in their methods?
The conspiracy was discovered through the naivety of an air force officer who this month used a cell phone to activate a high-tech rocket aimed at the president’s residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism revealed the officer’s telephone number. His arrest led to the other arrests.
Other rockets were then recovered from various high security zones, including the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Islamabad.
Wasn’t that covered during the first day of classes in Assassination Methods 101? Don’t use a traceable phone when triggering an explosive device.
But look at this, at little further down in the article:
At the same time, [President Musharraf] began to backtrack from an agreement Islamabad had made with the Pakistani Taliban in the Waziristan tribal areas for the release of al-Qaeda-linked people detained in Pakistan. Instead, more were arrested, including Shah Mehboob, a brother of former jihad veteran and member of parliament, Shah Abdul Aziz. Also arrested was a British-born suspected member of al-Qaeda, known as Abdullah.
So it seems Pervez reneged on the deal, and it was payback time… But why such a botched job? This is Al Qaeda, for crying out loud. They know all the ins and outs of causing remote explosions; how could they be that stupid?
Maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye. I have a theory, very speculative, about what might be going on under the surface.
Suppose Musharraf cut the deal on Waziristan as a way to divide up turf, ceding the tribal areas to Mullah Omar and Al Qaeda. In return, the Islamists gave up some of their own, a picked group that included the recent arrests and the forty-plus conspirators uncovered in the botched rocket attack. This would allow Musharraf to reassert control of his own intelligence services.
Under this theory, the rocket attack was bogus or incidental, a cover for a crackdown on members of the ISI who were most dangerous to Musharraf. The mullahs handed over some of their people in return for a free hand on their own turf in the mountains.
In other words, Musharraf did not renege, and the deal is still on. This would explain why he cut it in the first place, and would indicate that it wasn’t quite as sweet a deal for Mullah Omar as it looked at the time.
As for the blasé reaction of the U.S. government: we’re whistling past the graveyard. Whatever else may be going on, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have the run of the playground in Waziristan.
It seems that the stability of the Musharraf government is more important to us than mounting the trophy heads of Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar on our wall. After all, the alternative to Musharraf in Pakistan is something that looks a lot like the current regime in Somalia, only with nukes.
Considering that we’re just now coming to terms with a nuclear North Korea, and about to face a nuclear Iran, a new candidate for the Axis of Evil is the last thing we want.
Keep your eyes averted: sausages are being made.
Update: A commenter has called me “silly” for referring to the truce as notorious, and chides me for ignorance of the history of Waziristan. My response was this:
I am not being silly.
The notoriety of the truce does not deserve scare quotes; it was definitely notorious among counter-jihad bloggers at the time it occurred.
I realize that the northern areas of Pakistan have been ungovernable since time immemorial; I have written previously at length on the topic. See Pakistan Irredenta, for example. But why, then, did Musharraf sign this “truce” if it did nothing but ratify the facts on the ground? He exposed himself to a lot of flak for doing it, and had to spend a lot of time defending it. He would not have done so unless there was a reason for it.
And I don’t have to be totally informed about another culture to have an idea of how power politics works. There are different customs and mores, but affairs of state have a certain similarity everywhere. When a madman is in charge — e.g. Iran — the calculus is different, but it’s still a power politics analysis that one uses.
Don’t patronize me. I may be more ignorant than you in certain areas, and I may be wrong in this particular analysis (I said it was speculative), but I’m as capable of analyzing the issues as you are.
Once again: If I am “silly”, and the treaty had no practical effect other than to get Musharraf in hot water, then why did he sign it?