Accessibility links

Breaking News

South Asia: Will North Waziristan Peace Deal Spawn Imitations?

(RFE/RL) WASHINGTON, October 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Having failed to stop militants' infiltrating into neighboring Afghanistan by military means, the Pakistani government in September opted for a deal with locals in the region along their mutual border. Islamabad has hailed its peace agreement with tribal elders and others in North Waziristan as a model for other regions along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

FATA Accompli

Frustrated at the inability of an estimated 80,000 regular military troops to bring a traditionally semi-independent region under control, Islamabad hammered out a deal in June with one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The Tribal Areas include seven agencies and four tribal areas in northwest Pakistan, specifically the North West Frontier Province. The inhabitants of these regions are predominately Pashtuns, the ethnic group that dominates the adjacent region on the Afghan side of the border.

Under the Pakistani Constitution, acts of the national parliament are nonbinding in the Tribal Areas unless the president declares otherwise. But the president has discretionary power to order all or part of those areas to be brought under direct federal control -- provided that local views, reflected in a traditional Pashtun tribal council (jirga), are taken into account.

The introduction of high numbers of regular Pakistani military forces to North Waziristan and other Tribal Areas emerged as part of President Pervez Musharraf's counterterrorism campaign following the fall of Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001.

Response To Critics

The Taliban regime was supported politically and militarily by Islamabad, while it enjoyed ideological and ethnic support in the Tribal Areas. In fact, much of the Taliban leadership grew up in refugee camps in the Tribal Areas; they also received their religious, ideological, and military training in seminaries and affiliated facilities operating in the areas.

Almost from the outset of the post-Taliban insurgency that began in 2002-03, Kabul has accused Islamabad of supporting the insurgents, or at least of failing to prevent their activities inside Pakistan. Much of the Afghan criticism was focused on the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) -- which includes the Tribal Areas -- and Baluchistan Province.

Central military operations in the Tribal Areas have been unpopular from the start within the Pakistani Army -- Musharraf's primary support base.

Musharraf's introduction of troops to the Tribal Areas was largely a response to criticism by Afghanistan along with the United States and other countries with stakes in Afghanistan. Critics urged Pakistan to do more to control its porous border with Afghanistan.

Central military operations in the Tribal Areas have been unpopular from the start within the Pakistani Army -- Musharraf's primary support base. A military trained to confront India found itself engaged -- and losing soldiers -- in an unpopular war against locals with whom they had few quarrels. Moreover, elements within the Pakistani military regarded a counterbalance to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration -- like the neo-Taliban, with tacit Pakistani help -- as a strategic asset.

Despite the military presence, Pakistan's indigenous Taliban sympathizers began to exercise greater control over aspects of daily life in Tribal Areas, including North Waziristan.

The Peace Deal

The peace agreement signed on September 5 was a commitment by Fakhr-e-Alam Irfan, the political agent in North Waziristan and a representative of the North West Frontier Province governor, on one side, and "tribal elders,... local mujahedin, seminary students" described as "taliban," and tribal ulama on the other. Seven North Waziristan "locals" initially signed the agreement but two more have added their support. Later versions of the peace deal include the names of close to 50 representatives of North Waziristan.

Under the agreement, the North Waziristan side should "ensure" that they will not set up any "parallel administration" in the region, meddle in neighboring districts, or allow the crossing of the border with Afghanistan "for any kind of militancy." Trade, business, and meeting with family across the border can "continue in accordance with the traditions and the prevailing laws." The deal also states that "foreigners present in North Waziristan will leave Pakistan," although it also allows for those who cannot leave "because of some compulsion...[to] respect the prevailing laws and the agreement and...remain peaceful."

For its part, the Pakistani government should ensure that local levies -- enlisted or conscripted men, known as "khasadar" -- can resume their duties at checkpoints. There should also be "no ban on arms according to the tribal customs," although that "restriction would continue for the heavy arms."

Pursuant to the agreement, an unidentified local neo-Taliban spokesman said that movement has opened two offices in North Waziristan to "implement the accord, to prevent disorder, and [to take action against criminals, including masked men involved in acts of violence." An October 11 report in the Islamabad-based daily "The Nation" suggested that locals are "approaching the Taliban offices for resolution of their disputes or complaints." The paper warned that the "trend is reducing dependence of the tribesmen on political administration" of North Waziristan.

'Peace' Dividends

Six weeks after the peace agreement took effect, opinions differ sharply on its effectiveness.

Karzai (left) with Musharraf in Kabul in September (epa)

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently claimed that cross-border infiltration between North Waziristan and Afghanistan has been "reduced dramatically." Aziz said that Islamabad's satisfaction with the deal is such that talks are under way with other tribes along the Afghan-Pakistani border with an eye to reaching similar deals.

North West Frontier Governor Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai -- who has emerged as a leading supporter of the agreement -- called the North Waziristan deal a "model agreement" that should be emulated. Reports from Pakistan suggest that plans are under way to follow the North Waziristan model in South Waziristan -- where talks on a peace deal broke down in 2004 -- and in Bajaur.

Orakzai has suggested that if the North Waziristan model is replicated with tribes on the Afghan side of the border, it could represent a permanent solution to the Afghan "imbroglio."

Views From Across The Border

NATO officials have greeted the North Waziristan agreement with skepticism, but have been cautiously optimistic in their public assessments.

Before meeting with Musharraf in Islamabad in mid-October, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander British Lieutenant General David Richards said the "luck and good judgment" that he sees in Pakistan could allow the deal to "set an example for how we should deal with these problems."

But a NATO spokesman in Brussels, James Appathurai, subsequently said the alliance is "looking carefully." He said NATO is "hoping and anticipating that the agreement will deliver results" by "reducing the number of insurgents crossing" the border "or [dampening] support for the insurgents and the Taliban crossing" into Afghanistan from Pakistan. Appathurai cited "concerns" within NATO that support for the Taliban was still entering Afghanistan. Less diplomatically, military sources on the ground talk of a higher volume of traffic into Afghanistan's Khost Province, which borders North Waziristan, since the agreement was signed.

NATO also appears to be trying to emulate the North Waziristan peace agreement in Afghanistan. British forces evacuated Helmand Province's Musa Qala district in mid-October. ISAF commander Richards called the deal in Helmand a "desire on our part to do what the people want." He added that he is "told [that] the arrangements in Waziristan were not a deal with the Taliban," and insisted that the Helmand deal was "with local elders principally."

Afghan officials are currently championing their own policy of convening tribal councils involving tribes on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border to curb the lack of security.

Afghans may well remember that, in 1994, the Taliban came onto the Afghan scene ostensibly to bring security and order -- something they largely achieved. Now, 12 years later, the neo-Taliban might be perceived as peace brokers. That could leave some observers wondering whether the long-term ideals of democracy are being sacrificed for the prize of peace in the short term.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

SUBSCRIBE For regular news and analysis on Afghanistan by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report."