Pakistan buys a little
time By Syed Saleem Shahzad
MIRANSHAH, North Waziristan Agency, Pakistan -
They were described as terrorists only few days ago, but
now they have been decorated with garlands of flowers,
and a tough-talking Pakistani corps commander even
traveled to Wana in South Waziristan Agency to oversee
the terms of their release.
In a bid
to gain the support of tribal leaders in the search for
al-Qaeda operatives, Pakistan at the weekend freed 50
during the recent bloody counterterrorism
offensive near the Afghan border in South Waziristan.
Earlier, authorities pardoned five tribal
leaders accused of harboring al-Qaeda fugitives and
Afghan resistance figures, and a truce was negotiated
between the Pakistani army and tribals.
million-dollar question remains unanswered, though. How
long can the truce last?
"Thank God all matters
have settled down very well, but if you ask how long
this truce will last, nobody can guarantee it because it
is a tribal society and we face this kind of problem off
and on," said a member of the National Assembly from
North Waziristan, Pir Naik Zaman, while talking to this
correspondent in Jamia Ashrafia, Miranshah.
army and our people [are involved]. Initially, the army
operated wrongly [by going into the tribal areas] but
now they have realized their mistake and the matter has
been settled as per tribal traditions and through
dialogue [tribal council]," the Mutahidda
Majlis-i-Amal's member of parliament, Naik Zaman, added.
Under pressure from the United States, Pakistan
deployed many thousands of troops in the tribal areas.
Traditionally free of government control, regions like
Waziristan are believed to provide sanctuary for
anti-Kabul rebels operating in southern and eastern
Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaeda remnants and even
possibly Osama bin Laden. Many scores of tribals and
soldiers have died in fierce fighting in the region over
the past weeks.
Despite the confidence of the
politicians, though, sentiment among the masses that
there will be peace remains low.
growing local unrest, especially as additional forces of
the Sindh regiment have now joined with Pakistan troops
and Frontier Corps forces in North Waziristan, which is
being read as a prelude for another operation, this time
in North Waziristan.
"You know, when the
Pakistan army used to patrol in our area, the local
farmers would greet them and provide them with free
vegetables, but after the South Waziristan operation,
the Pakistani armed forces have lost their goodwill. Now
they do not roam in the market in uniform, and even on
their patrols they keep local khasadars [a sort
of local tribal police] for their security," said a
Indigenous factors apart, external
factors as well are adding fuel to the fire.
Local tribesmen showed this correspondent a
well-written pamphlet in the Urdu language entitled "A
message to the Pakistan army". The pamphlet is thought
to have been brought to North Waziristan from the
capital Islamabad in large numbers and distributed all
over North Waziristan and in Frontier Corps offices.
The pamphlet, most likely the work of radical
Islamic organizations, urges army soldiers that instead
of fighting "for the crusaders", they should give up
their jobs and do some other business. The pamphlets
have been generally well received.
told Asia Times Online that even before the tribals
decided on their terms of the truce, one of the wanted
men from South Waziristan, Mohammed Sharif, was invited
to Peshawar Corps headquarters, where he met the corps
commander and gave a guarantee that if Pakistani forces
pulled out from the area, and give them Rs 100 million
(US$1.7 million) in compensation, they would end their
insurgency against Pakistani troops in the area.
Apparently, the corps commander did not have any
alternative but to accept the terms. As a result, the
commander went all the way to Wana and hugged and kissed
the "terrorists" and announced news of the compensation.
So for the time being, relative peace has
returned to the area. But the underlying pressures
remain - the US wants Pakistan to take on the Afghan
resistance fighters (and foreign elements) taking
shelter on Pakistan soil, and the tribals giving them
shelter and support - either actively or passively -
have to be dealt with.
It is only a matter of
time therefore before a new offensive begins. Already,
Pakistan troops, under the watchful eye of US Federal
Bureau of Investigation members holed up in a vocational
training center in the tribal headquarters of Miranshah,
are gathering in North Waziristan for the final showdown
expected to take place in Shawal, a rugged no-man's land
that straddles the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and
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