Talking peace with the Taliban is a tough undertaking. The Americans who want to talk to the Afghan Taliban should take a close look at how Pakistan fared when it talked to its own Taliban. One can also make a guess at what will happen in the wake of the September 2011 APC in Islamabad as Pakistan gets ready to talk to the Taliban once again.
In 2003, Musharraf nearly got killed when three attacks on him — by al Qaeda through Abu Faraj alLibi, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Pakistan Air Force personnel — on him were foiled. He wanted a counter-attack in South Waziristan but was thwarted by his corps commander in Peshawar, General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, who preferred retirement to an operation.
The succeeding corps commander Peshawar, General Safdar Hussain, was from the ISI — its second-most important member, DG Analysis. He made peace with the Taliban commander Nek Muhammad at Shakai in 2004, binding him to not attacking in Afghanistan and getting rid of the ‘foreigners’ in return for amnesty. Nek Muhammad did not abide by the peace accord.
General Safdar Hussain told Zahid Hussain (Scorpion’s Tail page 71) he wanted the Americans trapped in Afghanistan. He was seen on TV dubbing Nek Muhammad a soldier of Islam. After Nek Muhammad was killed by a drone in June 2004, General Safdar Hussain signed another peace accord with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud at Sararogha after giving him half a million dollars to pay back the bribe he and his commanders had got from al Qaeda before shifting loyalty for money. He, too, did not abide by the terms of the accord.
The ‘peace accord’ allowed Baitullah to kill the tribal elders and fill the vacuum thus created in Fata with his warriors. Musharraf then sent in the troops. Lal Masjid in Islamabad issued a fatwa to the Pakistan Army saying their funerals will be desacralised if they fought the Taliban. In 2005, the Pakistan Army lost 230 soldiers in South Waziristan.
There were other such ‘dubious’ peace deals with Sufi Muhammad in Malakand and Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan that helped the terrorists damage Pakistan instead of giving it the breathing space it needed.
Strangely, Musharraf reacted to all this by colluding rather than correcting. In hindsight, his conduct might look like a ‘double game’. He brought General Aurakzai back from retirement and made him governor NWFP.
Carey Schofield who was for a time attached to the combat formations of the Pakistan Army as a military historian, in her book Inside the Pakistan Army: A woman’s Experience on the Frontline of the War on Terror (Biteback Publishing, London 2011) gives us the following account on the authority of then corps commander Peshawar, General Hamid Khan: “In May 2006, the retired General Aurakzai was appointed Governor of the North West Frontier Province. In September he struck a deal, at a Grand Jirga in Miramshah, with the Utmanzai Wazirs. Maulana Gul Bahadur Khan and Maulana Sadiq Noor, key Taliban commanders in North Waziristan, were party to this deal. Jalaluddin Haqqani and Tahir Yuldashev were also present when it was signed. Under this agreement, known as the Waziristan Accord, the Taliban pledged to eject foreign fighters, prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, stop running camps in the Fata and return seized weapons and pay reparation.
“In fact the deal only helped the militants. After South Waziristan, the militants shifted to North Waziristan and then on to Bajaur and Swat.
“In July-August 2007 there were attacks virtually every day, especially around Miramshah and Mir Ali. The Pakistan Army was losing control of territory, but Governor Aurakzai was determined to try to preserve the Waziristan Accord. In August in South Waziristan, the army was faced with the worst episode yet in its struggle against the militants” (p.175).
General Masood Aslam, who succeeded General Hamid Khan as corps commander, described the fiasco of Pakistan Army’s surrender to the Taliban on the road to Laddha Fort: “General Aurakzai began negotiating with the tribes, and the tribes began moving the goalposts. Finally, they produced a list of prisoners held by the government, saying until they were released, our soldiers would be held prisoner. Aurakzai took the list, and would not share it with the rest of us (p.176).
Aurakzai bent to the Taliban’s demands but finally failed to give Baitullah what he wanted: “In mid-December he resigned as governor. This was his way of telling Baitullah that he had played it straight, to persuade the tribes that he had behaved honourably. Otherwise, Baitullah would have gone after Aurakzai. He would have been a marked man. Aurakzai never wanted to discuss what he was doing with the army, with the bureaucrats or with politicians. Nobody could control him” (p.177).
In Orakzai, the Taliban can kill anyone at will. In her book, Taliban and anti-Taliban (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011), Farhat Taj tells us that Orakzai Agency is the second agency after Kurram where there is Shia-Sunni tension. The Taliban decided to kill the Shia. Because of the ‘peace treaty’, Pakistan stood aside if not lent a hand, as the Shia were massacred. She writes: “The Ali Khels of Orakzai — the biggest tribe there — were forced into taking on the Taliban and were successful in getting the upper hand, but when the Political Agent told them they had been too harsh, they knew what was coming. The Ali Khel jirga was blown up with a suicide-bomber in October 2008, killing 50 Ali Khel tribal elders, and forcing the survivors to become IDPs. The Sikhs and the Shia, those still left behind, now pay jazia” (p.137).
A Pakistani ambassador who served in Kabul during the Taliban regime says Mullah Omar never agreed to anything Pakistan proposed. A Canadian journalist Kathy Gannon in her book ‘I’ is for Infidel: from Holy War to Holy Terror, 18 Years inside Afghanistan (Public Affairs, New York 2005) says ISI boss General Mehmood Ahmed actually told Mullah Omar to do just the opposite of what Pakistan was officially advising him (p.93).
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2011.