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June 4, 2008
Welcome to Musharraf's world, fellas
The new Pakistani government has been negotiating with extremists in the NW Frontier Provinces for weeks and are finding the going a little tough.
This is the same ground covered by President Musharraf when he was seeking deals with the tribes on sovereignty and infiltration into Afghanistan. Apparently, the same problems that plagued the Pakistani president are cropping up for the new government.
The Pakistani peace deal with the pro-Taliban tribes (particularly with warlord Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border) is stumbling over the details. Mehsud refuses to stop sending fighters into Afghanistan. The Pakistani government can't sign a deal that explicitly allows this, so Mehsud is being asked to agree to behave, then do what he likes. Mehsud does not want to lie about such an important item, so negotiations continue. So does a feud between Mehsud and nearby tribal leader Maulvi Nazir, who worked with the army last year to expel several hundred foreign al Qaeda members (and killing over a hundred in the process). Mehsud believes Nazir was wrong to treat the al Qaeda men (who had turned to banditry and were abusing members of Nazirs tribe) as he did. But for Mehsud, Nazir's biggest sin was cooperating with the army. Welcome to tribal politics on the frontier. The question of when these guys will learn that negotiating with terrorists is not a great idea should be pushed by the US government. But the new government was elected promising to end the violence so Afghanistan will probably suffer as a result.
Meanwhile, many militants are not waiting for the treaty to be finished, and are putting on masks and attacking "un-Islamic" activities, like the sale of videos and music. Dozens of shops and stalls have been burned down recently. The Pakistani government wants peace along the border, but this peace deal with the tribes is increasingly seen as a misleading stop-gap. Al Qaeda is setting up shop under the protection of the pro-Taliban tribes, and the Pakistani government sees itself being blamed for any terrorist activity traced back to this new al Qaeda sanctuary. Somehow, the peace deal has to be put together in such a way that the Pakistani government has plausible deniability when this new terrorist sanctuary becomes active.