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Pakistan Makes Deal With Islamic Militants


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c/o Newsday.com-


PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistan's ruling army is forging a peace deal with Islamic militant guerrillas in the country's border region that will likely free the militants to increase attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, sources close to the talks say.


Pakistani newspapers say the army is close to a deal with locally based Taliban in the rugged border area of North Waziristan - the latest sign that a 2 1/2-year campaign to oust the militants from Waziristan has failed. The militants, mostly local, ethnic Pashtun tribesmen allied with an unknown number of Arab, Uzbek and other foreign fighters, effectively control North Waziristan, say residents of the region.


Waziristan's militants fight alongside the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. Since signing a preliminary truce last month, North Waziristan's Taliban have been negotiating a deal that will leave them in significant control in the region.


The government has rejected a Taliban demand that the army withdraw completely from North Waziristan, the daily newspaper Dawn reported. But a tribal leader with knowledge of the talks said the government has conceded real control, notably by agreeing that border posts will be manned not by the army, but by tribal paramilitaries over whom the government exercises less control. Army checkpoints established in recent years to tighten the government's hold over the region are to be abandoned, according to an Urdu-language paper, the Daily Express.


Even in North Waziristan's seat of government, the town of Miranshah, "the Taliban are the ones controlling life and setting the rules," the tribal leader said. "Now the army is accepting that this will continue in the future." He asked not to be named, saying he would be sanctioned for discussing the negotiations with a journalist.


The peace deal likely will call for, but will have no way to enforce, the departure of Arab, Uzbek, Chechen and other foreign militants from North Waziristan, the tribal leader and the Daily Express said. Significant but uncounted communities of Arabs and Uzbeks, for example, are based among villages in the Mir Ali district, east of Miranshah.


The planned peace deal will parallel the one the army signed with local Taliban in South Waziristan last year. It marks Pakistan's abandonment of a 29-month-old military campaign - launched under U.S. pressure - that has failed to oust the Taliban from Waziristan.


Authorities "acknowledged the failings in the previous policy" and judged that "a more political approach is needed," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general who is a prominent political analyst in Islamabad, the capital.


With the regular Pakistani army's failure, the United States has been working to build up Pakistan's special forces for counterterrorism work. And senior Bush administration officials are pushing to send tens of millions of dollars for new development projects in Pakistan's border region, a western diplomat said. U.S officials hope that would create jobs for some of the hundreds of thousands of idle young men who are the Taliban's easiest recruits.


In 2001, when U.S. forces ousted the Afghan Taliban regime and its al-Qaida allies, hundreds of Islamic militants fled into Waziristan and Pakistan's other frontier areas. In Pakistan's border "tribal zone," which is isolated, impoverished and dominated by Pashtun tribes that are controlled only loosely by the Pakistani government - the foreign militants helped build local Taliban movements. They used the zone to launch a stubborn insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.


Gen. John Abizaid, who oversees U.S. forces in Afghanistan as commander of U.S. Central Command, stressed the importance yesterday of halting the infiltration of Taliban from their bases in Pakistan.


"It's important that they [Pakistani authorities] don't let the Taliban groups be organized on the Pakistani side of the border," he told journalists.


Under U.S. pressure to stop Taliban infiltration, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf sent his army into the Pashtun border area in early 2004. But the army's repeated offensives proved so brutal to local villagers that they radicalized residents and pushed them into the arms of the Taliban.


The army has enforced secrecy on its operations in Waziristan, expelling journalists from the region. Thus, the toll of civilians killed, wounded and homeless has gone unmeasured.


In just the first battle of this war over Waziristan, "army and paramilitary troops reportedly evicted between 25,000 and 35,000 civilians" from around a single village, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch reported early this year. "They remained without shelter for the two-week-long operation and returned to find that the army had destroyed scores of homes, cattle, and crops."


The United States has "tried to get ... to work more precisely," relying less on broad attacks and more on special forces raids, an American official said last spring. But a spring offensive around Miranshah yielded no better results.


In Islamabad, "a feeling grew that the previous policy wasn't working, that something new had to be tried," said political analyst Masood.


As in last year's peace talks in South Waziristan, the Taliban have demanded an unfettered right to cross into Afghanistan and pursue what they regard as a jihad against the presence of foreign troops in a Muslim land.


The final deal will contain wording that in theory would bar or limit border crossings, but in reality, it "is sure to leave the Taliban free to cross over [the border] to join the war in Afghanistan," said the tribal leader close to the talks. That would parallel the arrangement in South Waziristan, where militants continue to send fighters into the Afghan war, according to U.S. military officers in Afghanistan.


Pakistan is under pressure from the United States and other countries to halt the Taliban's use of Pakistani borderlands as a sanctuary for their war on U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. In the current talks, Pakistan's government has been looking for a formula to make the infiltrations less obvious, said the tribal leader. Government negotiators pressed the Taliban to make their forays into Afghanistan longer but less frequent, he said.


Essentially, this deal would allow the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other Islamic militant groups along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to move freely without Pakistani government restraint. The only catch would be that if Pakistani troops are attacked, then the deal is off.


This makes for a huge problem in the fight to keep groups like the Taliban from attacking the Afghan government, and in the seemingly endless search for Osama Bin Laden himself. No longer will the Pakistani government interfere with extremist groups which have heavy support within their own country.

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