Musharraf and Bajour: Smoke On the Water
Deal Ceding Bajour to Islamist Terrorists Only Verbal; Why This Is Even Worse
By Steve Schippert
On Saturday, a jirga (or council) was formed in the Bajour Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and announced that it will begin to observe an accord between Bajour tribal elders and the Pakistani government similar to that agreed to in the Miramshah Agreement in North Waziristan. Contrary to other reports of a formal deal in Bajour, it is important to note that the developments are based solely on a verbal agreement and not a formal written agreement between Pakistan and Bajour elders and thus the Taliban.
“The administration does not have any formal agreement with the Mamond tribe. They have only reassured us of their commitments to maintain peace in the area,” MNA Political Agent Shakeel Qadir Khan told Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. In a Reuters report referred to by several Pakistani news outlets, Qadir Khan said, "Tribesmen led by elder Malik Abdul Aziz assured they would not shelter any foreign militants and would also not allow them to illegally cross the border." In the same Reuters report, he said that “the agreement with about 350 members of the Tarkani tribe was a verbal one reached with the political authorities.” Nearly all of Bajour’s population are members of the Tarkani tribe, and Mamond is considered a more localized subset of that tribe.
Whether the reported verbal agreement with the Mamond tribe can be considered representative of the whole of Bajour is uncertain. But considering there are no reports of a formal signing ceremony – a propaganda coup for the Taliban that would surely not go unexploited – it is a sign of a rushed and perhaps desperate concession by Musharraf. Indeed, the publicly claimed observance of the agreements made by the tribes of North and South Waziristan never occurred until a formal signing and ceremony occurred.
Why is this significant? Because a formal agreement, complete with a signing ceremony similar to those held in both North and South Waziristan, would indicate the natural progression of ongoing negotiations between Musharraf and the Tribal elders and the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance. But the developments over the weekend are anything but a natural progression consistent with the pace of negotiations. That the Bajour tribal elders announced pre-adherence to nothing more than a verbal agreement indicates a hasty concession by Musharraf, almost certainly as a result of the enormous pressure placed upon him through the national unrest over the controversial suspension of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry.
Violent clashes between Pakistani police and protesters included the use of force, tear gas and the police storming of the independent Geo television station that refused to stop broadcasting video coverage of the aggressive police action. While government and military loyalty to President Pervez Musharraf is increasingly questioned, the Interior Ministry and its police forces appear to have remained loyal. With rival internal Pakistani political parties putting aside their differences and coming to nearly unanimous agreement to protest against Musharraf (noteably without Benazir Bhutto and her powerful Pakistani Peoples’ Party), there was on the horizon – and may still be – a nearly ‘perfect storm’ of domestic uprising. With dissent most energetically led by the Islamist MMA alliance party, the true power struggle between Musharraf and Hamid Gul once again took center stage. Musharraf needed to find a way to defuse a potential domestic bomb.
With the coming annual ‘spring offensive’ by the Taliban significantly heralded this year, the increase in suicide bombing attacks deeper into Pakistan rather than nearly exclusively outward into Afghanistan should not be lost on observers. The significance is not lost on Musharraf. Six recent Taliban suicide bombing attacks inside Pakistan have killed 35. The Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance threatened that many more attacks were to come, “in effect opening a new front in their war,” this time an explicitely internal front against the Musharraf regime.
Within this context, the hasty verbal agreement ahead of a proper written formal accord is more troubling. This haste is almost certainly a sign of the concerns Musharraf has his own situation in Pakistan. That the North and South Waziristan accords have not been observed in practice by the Taliban-al-Qaeda alliance – including a 300% increase in cross-border attacks, contrary to the agreements – is of little significance in this respect. What is of most significance in the immediate are the driving factors that appear to have pushed Musharraf into ceding more of Pakistani territory to terrorists, ahead of even his own expected schedule.
There are implications which result in a higher level of concern for an announced verbal aggrement than would be found in the more formal agreements, such as the Miramshah Agreement of North Waziristan. As one observer told Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper, “We hope that a North Waziristan-like deal is also reached between the government and tribal militants, led by Faqir Muhammad.” Two things are clear: The agreements are officially with ‘tribal elders’ but in effect with the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance; and the rushed nature of the Bajour announcement was induced by a tumultuous weekend.
Has Musharraf recognized a potential 'perfect storm' and acted to prevent its landfall or forestalled its approach? He may have delayed the eventual direct conflict. But the likelihood of an Islamist assault on his authority remains high unless he directly confronts the Taliban al-Qaeda alliance. He must also confront their high profile supporters, such Hamid Gul, and those within his government, particularly within the ISI.
After all, the violent and tenuous situation exists not simply because the terrorists want Musharraf gone, but because they want Pakistan. There is an ocean of difference between the two aims, and Musharraf’s agreement to cede Bajour – whether hasty or formal – does nothing to change the terrorists’ quest for Pakistan.