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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Pakistan Holds Secret Talks with Local Taliban

By Sohail Abdul Nasir

The Pakistani government is frantically attempting to prolong the relatively calm situation in South Waziristan and to reach reconciliation with militants in North Waziristan. In order to attain this objective of ending violence in the Waziristan agencies, a multi-prong strategy is underway, with the latest aspect of this strategy just revealed to include "secret talks" with militants through the chief of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazlur Rehman faction (JUI-F), Maulana Fazlur Rehman (The Nation, June 15). He is an ideal individual for this type of job because of the respect he receives from religious, militant and political quarters. Recently, the new governor of the NWFP, Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai, held a very important meeting with him.

Two prominent dailies, the Urdu-language Nawa-i-Waqt and the English daily The Nation, revealed the existence of the backchannel talks. The Nation reported that "upon the request of the government, Maulana Fazlur Rehman is at the forefront of these talks, which also involves ulemas of Tablighi Jamaat (Proselytizing Group), having strong footings in North and South Waziristan agencies." Tablighi Jamaat is a worldwide Muslim movement that was founded in the 1920s in India, endeavoring to spread Islam, initiated by the elders of the deobandi school of thought. They are considered peaceful and on account of this attitude are criticized and measured as anti-jihadi by other deobandis. Nevertheless, the group enjoys much respect and influence in both tribal agencies. This backchannel diplomacy reflects the government's will to amicably control the deteriorating situation in the restive Waziristan agencies. Especially in North Waziristan, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that merchants and those who can afford to leave are migrating to nearby cities outside of FATA in the NWFP, such as Bannu and Tank. Due to a lack of credibility, the traditional jirga and tribal elders have been unable to alter the situation, and only the ulema can play a role.

It is a big question whether the secret talks and a multi-prong strategy aimed at grievances in the region will work (Terrorism Monitor, June 15). Orakzai, being a tribesman and a veteran soldier, will naturally try to achieve the best possible results and to avoid further conflicts in the area; however, these attempts appear to be a last ditch effort by the government (The Nation, June 12). If these attempts fail, there will be a full-scale military operation in order to completely eliminate local and foreign militants from the tribal areas (The Nation, June 12). A senior official told The Nation that the government is fully determined to stop the fast growing Talibanization of the tribal areas. This is why they have decided that the political process should be given another chance before the initiation of a full-scale military operation.

In the Waziristan agencies, the situation has tilted toward the militants so much that a writ from local Taliban leaders Baitullah Mehsud or Haji Omar is needed to remove administrative bottlenecks—evidence that the influence of militant leaders has crept into government offices. The local Taliban are enjoying their strongest position yet, and their strength is increasing day by day. If the government does not resolve this situation soon, its influence in the NWFP will erode even further. It appears that the secret channel of talks has been producing results since the local Taliban in North Waziristan announced a conditional one-month truce beginning on June 25. Orakzai welcomed the offer and said that it would help to resolve the conflict peacefully.
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