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March 22, 2008
New Pakistani Government Set to Negotiate With Terrorists
It will be hard to spin this news as anything except a disaster for American policy:
Faced with a sharp escalation of suicide bombings in urban areas, the leaders of Pakistan’s new coalition government say they will negotiate with the militants believed to be orchestrating the attacks, and will use military force only as a last resort. Soon to be former President Pervez Musharraf negotiated agreements in North and South Waziristan with the extremists and ended up paying for it dearly - as did the US as the deals forced Pakistani troops to leave the disputed areas, allowing the Taliban to pour across the border into Afghanistan.
That talk has alarmed American officials, who fear it reflects a softening stance toward the militants just as President Pervez Musharraf has given the Bush administration a freer hand to strike at militants using pilotless Predator drones.
Many Pakistanis, however, are convinced that the surge in suicide bombings — 17 in the first 10 weeks of 2008 — is retaliation for three Predator strikes since the beginning of the year. The spike in attacks, combined with the crushing defeat of Mr. Musharraf’s party in February parliamentary elections, has brought demands for change in his American-backed policies.
Speaking in separate interviews, the leaders of Pakistan’s new government coalition — Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N — tried to strike a more independent stance from Washington and repackage the conflict in a more palatable way for Pakistanis.
Any agreement negotiated with the Taliban sympathizing tribes may reduce the bombings. But it will prove an unmitigated disaster for Afghanistan.
I've got some further thoughts here.