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Implications of Peace Deals in Pakistan’s Wild West

Captain Alok Bansal was Member, Navy at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • June 13, 2008

    As the new political dispensation in Pakistan negotiates new deals with militants in the country’s Pakhtoon belt, it is causing consternation among its neighbours. The deals have been signed in Swat Valley, Mardan, Mohmand and Bajour Agency, and in all probability with Baitullah Mehsud the leader of ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’ in Waziristan. However, the Pakistan government would like to retain deniability vis-à-vis the last of these deals, so as not to ruffle too many feathers in the United States or Afghanistan. The reason for not making public the peace deal with Mehsud is mainly because today he is considered the biggest threat to US interests, even bigger than the elusive al Qaeda chief. During a recent press conference to Geo TV, where the security forces were conspicuous by their absence, Mehsud refused to stop fighting the US in Afghanistan, despite exhibiting his keenness for a deal with Pakistani government.

    There is therefore a need to analyse the implications of these developments on the regions that border Pakistan’s Pakhtoon belt, namely, Afghanistan and Kashmir. For Afghanistan, where the coalition forces are struggling to maintain a semblance of order, these deals are nothing but a repetition of the earlier deal in Waziristan, which only helped in strengthening the Taliban by granting it a safe haven to consolidate and reorganise. The spurt in violence in Afghanistan consequent to the signing of the deals is testimony to these apprehensions. At the same time, there has also been a spurt in violence in Kashmir. According to Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of NWFP, there were a number of Kashmiri militants within the ranks of militants in FATA and Swat valley, and after these deals many of them have shifted back towards the Kashmir Line of Control (LoC). This probably explains the heightened activity along the LoC in May 2008.

    The problem for Pakistan’s neighbours is two fold. Firstly, the deals would lead to a net accretion in the ranks of the militants challenging the state in Pakistan’s neighbourhood. Secondly, by giving them a free hand, Pakistan would end up creating a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism in this region, which will become the nerve centre for propagating Islamic radicalism throughout Southern Asia. The militants are already consolidating their positions within their zones of influence. Recently, Baitullah Mehsud distributed atta (flour) among the poor in Waziristan. At a time when atta has not only become expensive but also scarce in the entire Pakhtoon belt, this was an excellent way of earning the people’s goodwill. Similarly, his followers maintain law and order in the region and punish the guilty; for the common man, their system of justice is expeditious, inexpensive and incorruptible. Moreover, as part of the deal with the government, the compensation to the people who suffered loss of life or property is being distributed through Baitullah Mehsud and his men. According to one report, the amount of compensation to be paid runs into billions of rupees; Mehsud has already distributed Rupees 10 million to affected people in the town of Kotkai alone.

    Even within Pakistan, militants will try and spread their influence to regions that have hitherto not been under their influence. This also enables them to plan attacks in these regions to showcase their reach and gain publicity. The recent attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad is a significant pointer in this direction. It only showed their capacity to strike within the high security zone in Pakistan’s capital. And, by targeting the Danish embassy, they have tried to garner support among the people who have been unhappy with the cartoons on Prophet Mohammad published in Denmark.

    The ANP-led provincial government in Peshawar hopes that these deals will help it to wean people away from the path of militancy. But the armed militants who have been fighting the security forces in the region have not shunned violence but have merely changed their theatre of operations to Kashmir and Afghanistan, which has led to greater violence there. According to NATO sources, the attacks on Western forces have gone up from 60 per week in March 2008 to 100 per week in May 2008. Similarly, infiltration along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir has increased. Firing across the LoC, which has been quiet for some time, is a manifestation of increased infiltration.

    The Pakistan government’s deals with Islamic extremists do not eradicate extremism, but merely delay the eventual confrontation. This causes concern in the US in an election year, which would like to project normalcy and positive developments in Afghanistan. Washington has enormous leverages over Islamabad, especially in a year when Pakistan’s economic growth has started tapering. This probably explains the sudden volte-face by Rehman Malik, the adviser to the Pakistani Prime Minister on Interior Affairs, who claimed that the government has scrapped the peace deal with the local Taliban in Swat as they had not stopped attacks on the security forces. However, the provincial government is still trying to salvage the deal and has claimed that the deal is still intact. Even the Army is keen that the deal stays and they do not have to fight the Islamic militants in this region. Militants have increased pressure on the government by striking at a number of places within the Pakhtoon belt. Mehsud has claimed that the attacks were in response to attacks by security forces at a number of places in Waziristan.

    The Pakistani government needs to do a fine balancing act between American diktats and domestic political compulsions, but the recent attacks by US aircraft inside Pakistani territory in Mohmand Agency, where more than a dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed, has really closed its options.