In the face of stiff US opposition, the provincial government of NWFP Wednesday signed a peace accord with militants in Swat where an bloody army operation was under way since November 2007.
The 15-point accord came despite a US drone attack on a house in Bajore in which 20 men, women and children were killed and a nearby mosque was destroyed. The attack was widely interpreted as a warning to Pakistan government against its current peace negotiations with the militants in Pakistan's tribal belt (FATA) along its border with Afghanistan.
Washington has increased pressure on Pakistan to abandon talks with militants and demonstrate sincerity to the war on terror by capturing a Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. Pakistan government is currently holding protracted peace talks with Mehsud tribe and last week released 40 prisoners in exchange of 12 army and paramilitary officials.
At a recent special hearing on FATA at the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lawmakers urged the administration to use its influence and persuade Pakistan to call off the talks but Senator John Kerry's remarks were telling. Initiating the debate on Pakistan's peace talks with the tribal militants the Senator recalled that during his meetings with Pakistan's new leaders in February, he realized they had a very different understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat in FATA than the United States.
"In two days of meetings, Osama bin Laden's name was hardly ever mentioned. Instead, the Pakistanis are focused on confronting a growing domestic Pashtun insurgency led by Baitullah Mehsud," Senator Kerry said.
The peace accords are aimed at stopping suicide attacks in Pakistan, which became a focus of the militants' wrath last year as the Pakistani government pursued a more aggressive policy against them at the urging of the United States.
Not surprisingly, during a visit to the US in early May, Awami National Party leader Asfandyar Wali Khan, whose party is in power in NWFP, told the Bush administration and top US security officials of the adverse reaction to military ground operations or air strikes in the tribal belt. The ANP leader stressed that dialogue with tribal elders backing militants was the most viable option to ensure peace on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border in the present circumstances. He also told the US officials that physical intervention into the tribal areas by the United States would be a blunder that would create an atmosphere in which the militants would rally popular support.
At the same time, General Owais Ghani, the governor of the strategic NWFP and a key architect of the pending peace accord, told the New York Times recently that the proposed accord served Pakistan's interests because it gave space to restore the relative stability of pre-9/11, and to amicably break down the rule of the militants. But where Pakistan wants time, the United States wants action. Ghani pointed out that the US forces use "daisy cutter bombs when they go over to Afghanistan."
Security situation in FATA is directly related to the war in Afghanistan where US-led NATO forces are not making progress. General Owais Ghani bluntly says that the United States is floundering in the war in Afghanistan. "Pakistan should not be saddled with America's mistakes, especially if a solution involved breaching Pakistan's sovereignty, a delicate matter in a nation where sentiment against the Bush administration runs high," he told the New York Times. "Pakistan will take care of its own problems, you take care of Afghanistan on your side," said Owais Ghani.
According to a European think tank, the Senlis Council, the current US-led War on Terror approach is creating a political space in which extremists such as Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Taliban in Afghanistan have become legitimate political actors. "The lack of strategic acumen present in the "War on Terror" in Somalia and Afghanistan is in fact enabling the spread of the insurgencies present throughout both countries," said Norine MacDonald, President and Lead Field Researcher of The Senlis Council. "The United States is the common denominator in both countries – instead of containing the extremist elements in Somalia and Afghanistan, US policies have facilitated the expansion of territory that Al-Shabab and the Taliban have psychological control over."
Not surprisingly, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has called on British and American troops to stop arresting Talibans in Afghanistan, saying that their operations undermined his government's authority and were counter-productive.
President Karzai told the New York Times recently that he wanted American forces to stop arresting suspected Taliban members and their supporters, because fear of arrest and their past mistreatment were discouraging them from coming forward to lay down their arms. 'We have to make sure that when a Talib comes to Afghanistan ... he is safe from arrest by the coalition.' Karzai also criticized the number of civilian deaths inflicted by the coalition. Up to 9,000 civilians have been killed in indiscriminate bombing since 2001.
Many observers argue that the NATO forces have not yet made any major dent to the Taliban strength and therefore they say that NATO has failed to attain its objectives.
Initially a sizable number of Afghan people were hopeful that NATO would soon be able to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan but after the passage of seven years with no notable successes, the attitudes are radically changing. The inability of NATO to deliver has disappointed many Afghans though the Afghan officials continue to eulogize in support of NATO.
By and large many Afghans now view the once hailed liberation army as an occupying force now. Inability to defeat Taliban despite being equipped with all the latest and sophisticated tools of war, the Afghan people are loosing confidence in their presence and some Afghans have now begun to sympathize with the Taliban.
In this situation Pakistan's border area with Afghanistan is likely to remain volatile until the situation is not stabilized in the war torn Afghanistan and the Pakistan government has to maintain a critical balance between the US demands for a hard line against the Pakistani militants and the growing anti-American feelings with each US drone attack in which mostly civilians are the victims.