Expanding Miramshah And The Resurgent Enemy
Musharraf May Seek to Combine NWFP and FATA, Including Waziristan
By Steve Schippert
The Taliban and al-Qaeda have continued their resurgence in Pakistan, particularly since the signing of the Miramshah agreement between the Pakistani government and the tribal leaders of North Waziristan. The result has been the effective creation of a safe haven for training, planning and launching operations. A recent New York Times article cites intelligence officials who indicate that, not only have the Taliban and al-Qaeda built new training camps in Pakistan, but at least one of the camps is suspected of being used for and/or capable of training for al-Qaeda attacks beyond the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. As the article cites, several of the would-be attackers in the foiled plot to blow up airliners over US cities in-bound from London had “clear linkages” with “core al-Qaeda” terrorists in Pakistan.
In January’s analysis, Urgency In Pakistan, it was noted that the estimated strength of the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance has reached a level of over 200,000 fighters, principally located in North and South Waziristan and the rest of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as well as in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). While this has provided a steady stream of available bodies for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan – which have decidedly increased since the agreement effectively ceding North Waziristan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda – it also has served to bolster the internal opposition to Musharraf. The ongoing Pakistani opposition seeking to overthrow Musharraf currently remains at a relatively low-level (or low-intensity) effort but active nonetheless. For this reason, the United States walks a thin line between demanding the current Pakistani government do more to uproot and combat the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance and pressing Musharraf to take actions beyond the means his government can attain. The US is challenged to prevent the failure of the Musharraf government, whether at the hands of al-Qaeda and aligned movements or by internal opposition active in the military or the ISI, if for no other reason than the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.
While a Pakistani Army commander for the North Waziristan region, Major General Azhar Ali Shah, says that Pakistan has done more than Afghanistan and coalition troops to secure the Waziristan-Afghan border, the fact remains that attacks from the Waziristan region into Afghanistan immediately tripled after the Miramshah agreement in September 2006. Major General Azhar said recently, “We have established 90 border posts while the coalition forces and Afghan Army have jointly setup only 27 which indicates Pakistan’s keen interest and desire to stop cross border movement.” Pakistan’s desire to directly confront the Taliban or al-Qaeda in North Waziristan remains questionable at best and its professed measures to prevent movement into Afghanistan have proven wholly ineffective to date - if not factually inaccurate.
Equally troubling is Musharraf's plan to incorporate the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – of which both North and South Waziristan are a part - into the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) "after Taliban and al-Qaeda elements are eliminated from the region." Here, again, we note that Musharraf has not eliminated Taliban and al-Qaeda elements from any region within Pakistan to date and in practice, if not more directly, has ceded control of the Waziristan (and likely Bajaur) areas of the FATA to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Passing the batan along to the NWFP would likely result in an increased safe haven. The NWFP is nearly three times the size of the FATA and combined would be larger than all but the largest 23 states in the US.
The Taliban and al-Qaeda have long been pressing for an agreement similar to the North Waziristan deal for the NWFP, which includes Peshawar. The question remains: Is there wisdom to discussions of further expansion of the Miramshah agreement, the NWFP or provisions for greater tribal autonomy while Pakistan remains ineffectual in its defense against the Taliban and al-Qaeda?
Reasoned analysis would determine that the Waziristan regions of the FATA, and other areas with unabated Taliban and al-Qaeda influence would have to be cleared before any such agreement could take place, just as Musharraf stated. Alternatively, the agreements which have enabled the resurgence of al-Qaeda and the Taliban thus far would either have to be broken by Pakistan or expanded to cover the whole of the FATA and potentially the entire NWFP.
Understanding that the 'tribal leaders' who took part in the original deal owed no obligation or duty to Pakistan and likely all their loyalty to the Taliban, some were active Talibani, should cast enough doubt about Musharraf's latest offer. We can be relatively assured in the conclusion that Musharraf understands the implausibility of his latest offer - at least so far as the elimination of the Taliban or al-Qaeda prior to any such agreement, so long as Pakistan continues its current course in feigning the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Why then make such a statement?
Musharraf faces internal opposition from elements of his military, the ISI and a significant number of Pakistani citizens. He is likely at this point seeking to quiet the thunder of the opposition and buy additional time before the challenge to his authority becomes more overt and deadly - at least for his administration.
The manner in which the incorporation of the FATA – and its Waziristan safe haven - into the vast NWFP proceeds in real terms may well become a defining indicator for the state of the war in Pakistan and beyond.