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Peace Through Concession: Pakistan's New Taliban Accord

New peace. Same as the old peace.

As reported by Jane's, Pakistan plans to cut troops from the Waziristan border region while denying that any withdrawal of forces will take place.

Pakistan's newly elected government is planning for a 'thinning' of troops from some of the front lines in the country's northwestern tribal belt along the Afghan border, where the military claims that a decisive victory has now been won against Taliban insurgents.

Speaking to Jane's on 18 May as part of a media visit to the South Waziristan zone of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas arranged by the Pakistani military, Major General Athar Abbas, the military's chief spokesman and director general of the Inter-Services Public Relations service, said that "the army would still have a dominating presence" in the area and that a peace agreement would not be followed by a withdrawal. [Emphasis added.]

At issue, one would suppose, are the definitions and usages of the terms 'reduction' and 'withdrawal' as used by Pakistan and observers of Pakistan. Likely, the Pakistani ISI and government here view 'withdrawal' as complete. Also at issue are the types of forces that would remain after a Waziristan 'reduction' (as happened after the previous accords in North and South Waziristan.) Any forces left within territories agreed to would likely be Frontier Corps paramilitaries, which are more locally drawn and thus ethnically and regionally indigenous. But the Frontier Corps' paramilitary forces, while enjoying the not insignificant advantages of ethnic homogeneity and terrain and population familiarity, are less professionally trained, equipped and capable than the Pakistani regular army and special forces units.

This is what will likely be left behind and claimed as "a dominating presence" maintained, which is laughable, as Pakistani forces have never maintained "a [sustained] dominating presence" beyond occasional operational overpowering, making it hard to believe one could be left behind.

The point is essentially this: the Pakistani government, once again, was not negotiating from a position of strength in 2006, nor in 2007, nor is it now. Concrete territorial concessions in exchange for promises and vows are the fruit of negotiating from a position of either weakness or profound benevolence. The latter is not the case.

As stated, Pakistan has a track record of heavy concrete concessions - including force withdrawals, however defined - in exchange for the hope of promises. And, thus, it also has a track record of failed accords negotiated from a position of weakness with an enemy steadfast, determined and resolute. As noted at The Long War Journal, the 'peace accord' just negotiated in neighboring Swat and Malakand agencies includes troop withdrawals.

The peace deal in Swat and Malakand comes after several rounds of negotiations. A fifteen-point agreement was signed with representatives of the Northwest Frontier Province and representatives of Fazlullah’s Taliban. The major points of the agreement are as follows:

• Sharia law would be imposed in the Swat and Malakand districts.
• The Pakistani Army will gradually withdraw security forces from the region.
• The government and the Taliban would exchange prisoners.
• The Taliban would recognize the writ of the government and cooperate with security forces.
• The Taliban would halt attacks on barber and music shops.
• The Taliban cannot display weapons in public.
• The Taliban would turn in heavy weapons (rockets, mortars).
• The Taliban cannot operate training camps.
• The Taliban would denounce suicide attacks.
• A ban would be placed on raising private militias.
• The Taliban will cooperate with the government to vaccinate children against diseases like polio.
• Fazlullah's madrassa, the Imam Dherai, would be turned into an Islamic university.
• Only licensed FM radio stations would be allowed to operate in the region.
• The Taliban would allow women to "perform their duties at the work place without any fear."

Just yesterday, the government denied that security forces would be withdrawn from Swat and other Taliban hotspots such as South Waziristan.

A largely secular government does not cede Sharia law, government troop reductions and territory to an aggressive insurgent force from a position of strength. It just doesn't happen.

Pattern recognition is key to excelling in any endeavor, whether one is a defensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers or an intelligence analyst for the NSA. The pattern here can be seen by the deaf, heard by the blind and felt by the mute.

NOTE: For the record, the 15 points agreed to above are - on paper - a reasonably balanced deal. The issue I have in my incredulous treatment of this is that Pakistan's accords in the past have been utterly disregarded by those with whom they have made them, or those with whom Pakistan has signed deals lacked the power to enforce. Either way one wants to read the causation, the net result has been the same. Paper accord, followed by more bloodshed and attacks than before the paper appeared.

I really want to be able to stand up soon and say, "Wow. Pakistan finally made the right deal with the right crew and made it stick. Progress." For if this deal sticks and is adhered to, it is a significant success for Pakistan. That much has to be noted. But I am simply pessimistic and do not see it here. Every time I stick my finger in the wall socket, I get shocked. Pavlovian, perhaps....