February 7, 2008


Pakistan's Interior Minister orders negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud (Bill Roggio, February 7, 2008 , Long War Journal)

The Pakistani government and the Taliban appear close to signing the next round of "peace" accords to end the fighting in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan's Interior Minister stated a deal can be made with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, while Baitullah announces a cease-fire in northwestern Pakistan.

Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz has ordered the formation of a peace jirga, or committee, in order to conduct official talks with the Taliban and Baitullah. “The government, in collaboration with a jirga consisting of influential and local people from the Fata and the Frontier regions, would soon take measures for sustainable peace in the tribal areas," said Nawaz.

Nawaz claimed the government was operating from a position of strength due to military operations. "The demand of initiating a peace process was made by the Mehsuds, who are on the run after being crushed by the security forces in Waziristan," Nawaz said. "[Baitullah] Mehsud has no choice but to agree on the peace deal. It’s a matter of his survival."

Pakistani militants 'call truce' (BBC, 2/07/08)
The BBC's Ilyas Khan in Pakistan says fighting in North and South Waziristan has stopped completely.

Our correspondent says it is unclear whether this is because of recent heavy snowfall or because of the ceasefire.

The army says the fighting has ceased because the militants want to regroup and prepare new attacks.

Militant spokesman Maulvi Mohammed Umar told the BBC the truce would include the tribal belt along the Afghan border and the restive Swat region to the east, where the army has recently been fighting pro-Taleban fighters.

He said they have announced a unilateral ceasefire because the government has abandoned positions in the area and pulled back to their camps - a key militant demand.

Defence sources say troops that had earlier spread out over a large area of territory controlled by Mr Mehsud appear to have withdrawn from their positions.

Pakistan only has two options in Waziristan: it can try to establish genuine sovereignty itself or renounce same and make it a free fire zone for us.

Taliban Commander Emerges As Pakistan's 'Biggest Problem': Radical Accused in Bhutto's Death Has Quickly Gathered Power (Imtiaz Ali and Craig Whitlock, 1/10/08, Washington Post)

When Baitullah Mehsud attended a February 2005 signing ceremony for an ill-fated cease-fire with the Pakistani government, he bundled his face and upper body in a black cloth before appearing in public to scrawl his signature. Like the man to whom he has sworn allegiance, Afghan Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, Mehsud has obsessively avoided cameras and maintained an ascetic lifestyle.

Since then, Mehsud has emerged as perhaps the greatest military threat to the Pakistani government. Last August, just weeks after the cease-fire ended in recriminations, his fighters from South Waziristan stunned the country by capturing a group of more than 200 soldiers who were patrolling the lawless tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. Three were executed; the rest were freed in a prisoner swap.

In recent days, Pakistani officials have blamed the Taliban commander for the death of Bhutto, the former prime minister who was killed Dec. 27 while campaigning to return to power. Investigations are ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether Mehsud was directly responsible.

What is clear, however, is that Pakistan's past efforts to control or neutralize Mehsud have repeatedly backfired, leaving him stronger than ever and adding to the general instability that is plaguing the country, Pakistani officials and analysts said in interviews.

"Baitullah Mehsud is the biggest problem of today's Pakistan, and he is the main factor behind the failure of the government's current policies in the tribal region," a senior government official said on condition of anonymity in Peshawar, a frontier city near the Afghan border. "Kidnap after kidnap of the security forces by his militants has become a routine matter now and a big embarrassment for the government."

Mehsud, 34, is also accused by Afghan and U.S. officials of organizing suicide attacks in Afghanistan and helping to supply Taliban fighters there. But the Pakistani military, distracted by political problems, has been reluctant to mount a direct assault on his refuge in South Waziristan, a rugged tribal area that has successfully resisted outside control for centuries.

"There's really no choice for the government now," said Muhammed Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies in Islamabad. "They'll have to go in and do a military operation to weaken him. He's become too strong. They need to do something to stop the Taliban and the Talibanization of that region."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 7, 2008 5:24 PM

Pakistan govt has always ruled Pakhtoon territories lightly. I see no reason for them to stress on soverignity unless The Talibs attack Pak Govt brazenly. And dont forget 25% of the Paki Military Officers are supposed to be pro-Talib.

Brush up on the origin of Pakistan and 1947. Pakistan is the original Jihad State, explicitly created by a Jihad. it is not going to take on a Jihad just to please Americans

Posted by: Gyan at February 8, 2008 6:30 AM

These guys really want to die, don't they? Let's oblige them. What will they do if we drop a daisy-cutter on them, complain to the UN?

Kill Gulbiddin Heykmatyr tonight!

Posted by: ratbert at February 8, 2008 10:36 AM