COMMENTARY
 
Renewed Allegations about Alleged Infiltration
Weekly Pulse
December 15-21, 2006
The Musharraf government has once again come under international criticism over the lingering question of alleged Taliban infiltration from tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. The criticism pertains to growing Talibanisation of the tribal region, caused by the government’s controversial September 2006 peace deal with the tribal jirga.

On December 11, the International Crisis Group (ISG) released a report titled Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants. Referring to the September deal, the ICG report states that in the aftermath of the deal, “the government released militants, returned their weapons, disbanded security check posts and agreed to allow foreign terrorists to stay if they gave up violence. While the army has virtually retreated to barracks, this accommodation facilitates the growth of militancy and attacks in Afghanistan by giving pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm…Using the region to regroup, reorganise and rearm, they are launching increasingly severe cross-border attacks on Afghan and international military personnel, with the support and active involvement of Pakistani militants.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, Mehmood Ali Durrani has termed the ICG report as mere “propaganda.” Instead, the ambassador said, “Life has returned to normality in North Waziristan following the peace agreement between Government and tribal people”…and that “no cross border attacks were being carried out on Afghanistan from Pakistani soil.”

Interestingly, the same day the ICG published its report, the New York Times also carried a comprehensive report on the same issue. The report, titled “Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan,” quotes “diplomats and intelligence officials from several nations” as saying that Islamic militants were “using a recent peace deal with the government to consolidate their hold in northern Pakistan, vastly expanding their training of suicide bombers and other recruits and fortifying alliances with Al Qaeda and foreign fighters.”

While criticizing the New York Times report, a spokesman of the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, DC termed it as “baseless and far from facts.” The spokesman maintained that some clandestine forces “do not want peace to be restored in the tribal areas after the successful peace agreement in North Waziristan…The peace agreement is a part of the political policy and it has been yielding outcome.”

While the Pakistani mission in Washington, DC was busy clarifying the two reports, the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, expressed renewed US concern over the situation in Pakistan-Afghan border by terming it a “mess.” He said, “Safe haven for extremists in the border areas was a cause of concern for the United States.” Mr McCormack said Washington was aware of the concerns of the Afghanistan government on infiltration into its territory, while adding there had been an “increase in Taliban activities over the recent months…having safe havens and areas where these extremists can operate from is a real concern for us.”

Allegations regarding the infiltration of Taliban from Pakistan’s tribal regions bordering Afghanistan are nothing new. However, with growing insurgency against the government of President Hamid Karzai and its international security support system led by NATO, the frequency of such allegations has increased.

Quoting Pakistani intelligence officials, The New York Times report mentions that in recent weeks, the number of foreign fighters in the tribal areas was far higher than the official estimate of 500, perhaps as high as 2,000 today. “These fighters include Afghans and seasoned Taliban leaders, Uzbek and other Central Asian militants, and what intelligence officials estimate to be 80 to 90 Arab terrorist operatives and fugitives, possibly including the Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.”

“After failing to gain control of the areas in military campaigns, the government cut peace deals in South Waziristan in 2004 and 2005, and then in North Waziristan on Sept. 5. Since the September accord, NATO officials say cross-border attacks by Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and their foreign allies have increased.” Citing intelligence accounts, The New York Times report continues: “The tightening web of alliances among these groups in a remote, mountainous area increasingly beyond state authority is potentially disastrous for efforts to combat terrorism as far away as Europe and the United States.”

According to the ICG report, the Musharraf government’s ambivalent approach and failure to take effective action is destabilizing Afghanistan. Consequently, the report recommends that Kabul’s allies, particularly the US and NATO, which is now responsible for security in the bordering areas, “should apply greater pressure on it to clamp down on the pro-Taliban militants. But the international community, too, bears responsibility by failing to support democratic governance in Pakistan, including within its troubled tribal belt.”

Highlighting the problem in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the ICG report states that Pakistani “state’s failure to extend its control over and provide good governance to its citizens in FATA is equally responsible for empowering the radicals. The only sustainable way of dealing with the challenges of militancy, governance and extremism in FATA is through the rule of law and an extension of civil and political rights. Instead, the government has reinforced administrative and legal structures that undermine the state and spur anarchy.”

For Pakistan, ICG recommendations include, among others, “integrating the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into Northwest Frontier Province as a Provincially Administered Tribal Area, under executive control of the province and jurisdiction of the regular provincial and national court system and with representation in the provincial legislature; removing restrictions on political parties in FATA and introduce party-based elections for the provincial and national legislatures; and re-establishing the writ of the state and counter militancy in FATA.”