Pak-Taliban truce rings alarm bells in New Delhi

Islamabad's purchase of peace by acceding to enforcement of Shariah has raised serious concerns in New Delhi on several counts,particularly Pak Army’s apparent inability to squarely check the influence of Pakistani Taliban that is now beginning to reverberate even in Punjab province.

Written by Pranab Dhal Samanta | New Delhi | Published: February 18, 2009 9:26:37 am

The Pakistan government’s purchase of peace by acceding to the enforcement of Shariah in the Malakand division of NWFP — this includes the Swat Valley — has raised serious concerns in New Delhi on several counts — particularly the Pakistan Army’s apparent inability to squarely check the influence of Pakistani Taliban that is now beginning to reverberate even in the Punjab province.

Sources said it is tempting to conclude that the agreement marks nothing less than a “military surrender” even though some assessments from Pakistan suggest it could be a tactical retreat. Either way,the broad view in New Delhi is that the Pak Army has accepted its inability to go after Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Waziristan without conceding ground in Malakand.

The truce is based on the assumption that Sufi Mohammed,founder of the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM),with whom the agreement has been reached,will deliver on his word that violence will end. This is predicated on the influence he is said to hold over son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah,also known as Maulana Radio. Maulana Radio is the leader of militants who,under the TNSM,have been waging war in the Swat region.

Sufi Mohammed,arrested after he took 10,000 men to support the Taliban in their fight against NATO forces after 9/11,had showed a similar intent last April when a six-point agreement was firmed up. For this,his six-year sentence was commuted to four years and he was released from prison but later his son-in-law did not honour the agreement prompting Sufi Mohammed to disown Fazlullah. Things have come a full circle with Islamabad seemingly convinced that Fazlullah is on board this time.

These intricacies aside,New Delhi is of the view that these agreements are historically fragile and after some regrouping,matters worsen,particularly when Fazlullah has earlier recognized Mehsud as his leader.

Despite the official line that Nizam-e-Adl regulations have been agreed upon,not Shariah,there is clearly going to be differences over interpretation — this was witnessed during Zia-ul-Haq’s tenure when he sought to Islamise Pakistan laws.

Issues like whether fellow Muslims not be given sanctuary are bound to come up for debate when questions arise on handing over wanted terrorists.

As for the immediate impact of this truce,indications from Indian security agencies are that other fundamentalist outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed will feel emboldened. The truce with TNSM is being seen as a victory for the TTP,which is drawing in other locally active groups into its fold — many of these will be Kashmir-centred anti-India outfits.

Sources here point to two specific incidents in Punjab as disturbing pointers — the bombing of the Shia mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 and the attack on a checkpost in Mianwali on February 7.

The latter is a small Pashtun town and an airbase in North-West Punjab close to the Frontier provinces where for the first time a shift in tactics was noticed. Unlike suicide bombs that were usually used for attacks in Punjab,this was a frontal armed assault indicating intent to capture and control. While these are unlikely to be TTP members,sources said,these were probably emboldened groups showcasing their allegiance to Mehsud.

Already,cable network owners have received threats in places like Muzaffargarh near Multan,where the LeT and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are active. In the adjoining town of Kot Addu,the TTP — not previously known in that area — issued warnings to women to start wearing burqa. It’s quite possible that local groups may be behind this but the “Taliban branding” is beginning to create concern.

In this context,sources said,a military concession in Malakand is bound to double the currency of what is the Pakistani Taliban and encourage all terror outfits operating out of Pakistan. India is also suspicious of the Pak military’s relationship with Pashtun sympathizers of the TTP because of the manner in which they have been settled in large numbers in Baluchistan to challenge Baluch nationalists.

Washington,too,has its compulsions. With US President Barack Obama committing to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan,the US Army has been unable to move even a fraction of the logistics it needs because of stiff resistance and attacks from Mehsud’s men in the Khyber agency.

The US will hope that even as a poor option,the agreement in Swat — with which it has not interfered proactively — will purchase greater purpose and commitment from the Pak Army to enable easier movement of US logistics in the coming summer months.

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