August 27, 2006 in Nation/World

Pakistan talking peace with Taliban

James Rupert Newsday

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – Pakistan’s ruling army is forging a peace deal with Islamic militant guerrillas in the country’s border region that probably will free the militants to increase attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sources close to the talks say.

Pakistani newspapers say the army is close to a deal with locally based Taliban in the rugged border area of North Waziristan – the latest sign that a 2 1/2-year campaign to oust the militants from Waziristan has failed. The militants, mostly local, ethnic Pashtun tribesmen allied with an unknown number of Arab, Uzbek and other foreign fighters, effectively control North Waziristan, say residents of the region.

Since signing a preliminary truce last month, North Waziristan’s Taliban have been negotiating a deal that, in effect, will leave them in significant control in the region.

The government has rejected a Taliban demand that the army withdraw completely from North Waziristan, the daily newspaper Dawn reported. But a tribal leader with knowledge of the talks said the government has conceded real control, notably by agreeing that border posts will be manned not by the army, but by tribal paramilitaries over whom the government exercises less control. Army checkpoints established in recent years to tighten the government’s hold over the region are to be abandoned, according to an Urdu-language paper, the Daily Express.

Even in North Waziristan’s seat of government, the town of Miranshah, “The Taliban are the ones controlling life and setting the rules,” the tribal leader said. “Now the army is accepting that this will continue in the future.” He asked not to be named, saying he would be sanctioned for discussing the negotiations with a journalist.

The peace deal probably will call for – but will have no way to enforce – the departure of Arab, Uzbek, Chechen and other foreign militants from North Waziristan, the tribal leader and the Daily Express said. Significant but uncounted communities of Arabs and Uzbeks, for example, are based among villages in the Mir Ali district, east of Miranshah.

The planned peace deal will parallel the one the army signed with local Taliban in South Waziristan last year. It effectively marks Pakistan’s abandonment of a 29-month-old military campaign – launched under U.S. pressure – that has failed to oust the Taliban from Waziristan.

Authorities “acknowledged the failings in the previous policy” and judged that “a more political approach is needed,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who is a prominent political analyst in Islamabad, the capital.

With the regular Pakistani army’s failure, the United States has been working to build up Pakistan’s special forces for counterterrorism work. And senior Bush administration officials are pushing to send tens of millions of dollars for new development projects in Pakistan’s border region, a western diplomat said. U.S officials hope that would create jobs for some of the hundreds of thousands of idle young men who are the Taliban’s easiest recruits.

In 2001, when U.S. forces ousted the Afghan Taliban regime and its al-Qaida allies, hundreds of Islamic militants fled into Waziristan and Pakistan’s other frontier areas. In Pakistan’s border “tribal zone” – which is isolated, impoverished and dominated by Pashtun tribes that are controlled only loosely by the Pakistani government – the foreign militants helped build local Taliban movements. They used the zone to launch a stubborn insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

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