Pakistan crosses a dangerous
boundary By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Even as the administration of
President General Pervez Musharraf faces one of
its biggest political challenges in seven years,
the Pakistan Army has made the potentially
explosive decision to intervene in the internecine
strife in the volatile South Waziristan tribal
Last week, more than 100 people were
killed when fighting broke out between
al-Qaeda-backed Uzbek militants and the Pakistani
Taliban in South Waziristan.
spokesperson for the Pakistani armed forces and
governor of North West
Frontier Province have denied that the government
is involved in the conflict, independent sources
confirmed to Asia Times Online that special
security forces of the Pakistan Army conducted
raids in an attempt to arrest Uzbek commander
Tahir Yaldeshiv. There are unconfirmed reports
that some Pakistani soldiers died in clashes with
Further, it has emerged
that a faction of the Taliban led by Maulvi Nazir
allied with the Pakistani military to take on the
foreign militants. This is a controversial move.
Last September, Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire
with pro-Taliban, Pashtun tribal leaders under
which it withdrew thousands of troops from the
North Waziristan tribal area and released several
hundred Taliban and al-Qaeda militants from jail.
This agreement is now in jeopardy and,
more significant, it pits the "coalition" of
Nazir's Taliban and the Pakistani military against
the leaders of the "Islamic State of Waziristans"
. These leaders control the shuras
(councils) of the mujahideen in the two
Waziristans and support the foreign militants.
Last year, the Taliban declared the
establishment of an "Islamic state" in North
Waziristan, and they in effect rule in the rugged
territory, including parts of South Waziristan.
"Do not become a party to the conflict,
otherwise we will sign out from the peace
agreement we reached with the government," top
Pakistani Taliban commander Haji Omar warned
Islamabad. Omar, one of the driving forces behind
the Islamic state, was speaking in an interview
with the British Broadcasting Corp's Pashtu
service on the weekend.
Asia Times Online
has learned that key leaders of the Islamic state,
Sirajuddin Haqqani and Baitullah Mehsud, as well
as other leaders are in South Waziristan to talk
the Taliban faction out of siding with the army.
Delegations of the Taliban from Afghanistan are
also in the the two Waziristans to mediate in
talks between Uzbek militants and Taliban
After last week's fighting ended
in a temporary ceasefire, a jirga (tribal
council) was convened at which Nazir was insistent
that all foreigners should be disarmed and their
status reduced to "refugees" in a restricted area.
The demand was immediately rejected by the foreign
The leaders of the Islamic
state will also have nothing to do with such a
proposal as they will never ask any mujahid to lay
down his arms or ask any Muslim to live in the
Islamic state as a "non-entity". They, like the
Uzbeks, are also vehemently opposed to the
For its part, the
military will be keen to build on the foothold it
has regained by associating with Nazir's Taliban
as Islamabad is under constant pressure from the
US to do something about foreign fighters in the
The situation is fast returning
to where it was before the ceasefire last year,
with the Pakistan Army, with some local support,
lined up against the Pakistani Taliban in the
The army's previous
intervention in the tribal areas was unpopular
among vast sections in Pakistan, and Musharraf an
ill afford further reason for political dissent.
Political fallout More than 200
opposition supporters have been arrested over the
past few days during protests over the recent
suspension of the chief justice for alleged misuse
of his office.
Critics claim that Iftikhar
Chaudhry was removed because Musharraf wants a
tame judiciary in general elections this year so
that he can legitimize his re-election without
being forced to give up his post as head of the
The row has set off protests across
the country, with political parties and other
organizations jumping on to the bandwagon of
Benazir Bhutto, former premier
and now leader of the Alliance for the Restoration
of Democracy (ARD), clearly realizes that in the
present climate of dissent against Musharraf, the
situation in the Waziristans could play into the
hands of religious hardliners and militants.
She has instructed the ARD leadership to
separate its opposition campaign from that of the
six-party religious alliance, the Muttahida
Majlis-e-Amal, during protest rallies. On the
ground, this could be difficult to do as the
groups have already protested together.
Apart from the political ramifications for
Musharraf, the Taliban in Afghanistan, as they
gear up for their spring offensive, could benefit.
Much of their support comes from within Pakistan.
An inflamed situation in the Waziristans over the
Pakistan Army and growing political unrest
elsewhere will push more supporters their way.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at email@example.com.