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Pakistan, Tribal Leaders Hold Talks to Restore Truce

July 16, 2007 at 6:10 PM EST
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RAY SUAREZ: A weekend barrage of suicide bombs and rocket attacks in Pakistan’s northwestern frontier shattered a 10-month truce between pro-Taliban militants and the Pakistani government. The attacks came after extremists called for a holy war against the government of President Pervez Musharraf to avenge last week’s storming of the Red Mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

At least 100 people were killed when Pakistani security forces seized control of the mosque from the militants holed up inside. Under a September 2006 truce agreement, the Pakistani army pulled back its troops from the tribal areas of north Waziristan, while militants agreed to stop launching attacks both in Pakistan and against U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Tribal elders were supposed to monitor the deal.

According to intelligence reports, Osama bin Laden has used the border area as a hideout for years. The United States agreed in March to provide $750 million in aid to help squelch militant activity. But after the attacks this weekend, U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Pakistani President Musharraf has more to do.

STEPHEN HADLEY, National Security Adviser: His challenge, of course, is that these extremists, these Taliban, are a threat to him and to us. And he has taken action against them, but the action has, at this point, not been adequate, not effective. He’s doing more; we are urging him to do more; and we’re providing our full support to what he’s contemplating.

Fear of wider civil war

Robert Grenier
Former CIA official
President Musharraf in the speech that he gave just a couple of days ago reframed the issue in the same way that he had back in January of 2002, saying that this is a struggle for the future of Pakistan, this is a struggle against extremism.

RAY SUAREZ: Since the weekend, the Pakistani government has sent more troops to the volatile northwestern frontier, and negotiations between government-backed tribal elders and militant leaders are underway to rekindle the truce.

Now, some analysis of the weekend's events in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas and what they mean for U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and fight al-Qaida. Robert Grenier was head of the CIA's counterterrorism center and chief of station in Islamabad. He helped plan the covert operation to oust the Taliban and al-Qaida from Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

Anatol Lieven is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank. He was also a correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Times of London.

And, Anatol, we're told that, even at this moment, there are representatives of the Pakistani government in the northwestern tribal areas trying to put the truce back together again. Why does the government see it in their interest to continue?

ANATOL LIEVEN, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation: They're very afraid of sparking a wider civil war among the Pashtuns of Pakistan, because one has to remember that most Pashtuns live in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan, but they identify very closely with the Pashtuns of Afghanistan.

And the Pashtuns also contribute disproportionately to the Pakistani army. The last time the Pakistani army went in really hard into the tribal areas in 2004-2005, there was considerable discontent within the army about that. So it's something they do have to handle very carefully.

RAY SUAREZ: So, Robert Grenier, when the interior minister says that the Red Mosque siege, the people inside the mosque had direct links to the people in the northwestern frontier areas, do you believe that? And does that sort of encapsulate the threat that's there for further violence?

ROBERT GRENIER, Former CIA Official: Well, yes, I do believe that he's right when he says that these people had direct links with extremists in the northwest frontier; I don't think there's any question about that. There are also some stories indicating that there may have been direct links between those extremists at the Red Mosque and Ayman al-Zawahiri and other members of al-Qaida central. I would take that with a much larger grain of salt.

RAY SUAREZ: So it seems like there are no good choices for the central government. You either allow the siege besiegers inside the Red Mosque to continue their efforts inside the capital of Islamabad or more violence comes as a result of trying to suppress that and keep control of the capital.

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, I think that President Musharraf in the speech that he gave just a couple of days ago reframed the issue in the same way that he had back in January of 2002, saying that this is a struggle for the future of Pakistan, this is a struggle against extremism.

And the siege of the Red Mosque was a particularly high-profile indication of that, but its roots also lie in the northwest frontier. And I don't think that you can attack one without also attacking the other.

The 10-month cease-fire

Anatol Lieven
New America Foundation
[W]hat this brings home is that the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government will act decisively, as they did over the Red Mosque, if they see that something is becoming a real threat to them.

RAY SUAREZ: Anatol Lieven, when it was in force, did that 10-month cease-fire accomplish anything positive for any of the parties who had signed on to it?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, it may have accomplished something positive for the parties that signed. It didn't accomplish anything positive for us in Afghanistan; that was the problem. But then, to some degree, that wasn't really the intention. You know, Pakistan was trying to get these people off its neck. And, of course, it was responding to pressure from the West.

But I think what this brings home is that the Pakistani army and the Pakistani government will act decisively, as they did over the Red Mosque, if they see that something is becoming a real threat to them. Now, if the tribal areas, as we've seen over the weekend, are becoming a really serious threat to them in terms of bombings, attacks on troops, police, then I think they may well act decisively there.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, when you say it accomplished something for the parties involved but not for the U.S., is this an example of the Pakistani government, our stated ally in that part of the world, having a very different agenda when it comes to suppressing the cross-border activity that helps support the Taliban?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Yes, but Pakistani officials would also point out that, after all, the internal stability of Pakistan is also a U.S. vital interest. In other words, it's not in our interest to get the Pakistani government to do something that will lead to, well, the collapse of that government or massive unrest.

So there's a constant, you know, tug of war, if you like. They have to balance on a tightrope between the feelings of their own people and what we want. But I think if, indeed, extremists within Pakistan do come to be seen by them as more and more of a threat to Pakistan, then they will act more and more strongly in future. But they will do it for their reasons, not for ours.

Reorganization of al-Qaida

Robert Grenier
Former CIA official
The al-Qaida extremists, even if they don't become directly involved in the warfare with the Pakistani government, will not have leisure to plan in the way that they have in the past.

RAY SUAREZ: Robert Grenier, just last week, intelligence analysts working for the United States government said that one of the things that lead to the rejuvenation, the reorganization of al-Qaida in that part of the world was that truce which provided a safe haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border for al-Qaida to reconstitute itself. Is something that threatens the Pakistani government also an American interest at the same time?

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, in fact, it is, at least at a tactical level. The U.S. government has been pushing since 9/11 the Pakistan government to move aggressively into the tribal areas to bring those areas under control, both to capture and kill terrorists in those areas, and also eventually to deny them as a safe haven to current or future terrorists. The problem is that, as Anatol just pointed out, if the Pakistani government pushes the envelope too far in doing that, they risk tripping off a tribal war in that area and potentially destabilizing the government itself.

RAY SUAREZ: But now that the truce is over, is there any indication that the Pakistani government will be tougher on the forces, the non-government forces, the cross-border forces that operate in that area?

ROBERT GRENIER: Well, I think they are serving their own interests in that area. So, yes, they have already begun to move the Pakistan military back into the tribal areas. That, in turn, is reciprocating further attacks from the militants. And I think that what you will see is a disruption of extremists, both al-Qaida-related extremists and also local extremists who are engaged in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

The al-Qaida extremists, even if they don't become directly involved in the warfare with the Pakistani government, will not have leisure to plan in the way that they have in the past. They will have to be very concerned about their own security under those circumstances. And local militants who have heretofore been attacking across the border in Afghanistan will have their own local fight with the Pakistan army.

U.S. interests in Afghanistan

Anatol Lieven
New America Foundation
It could certainly help U.S. interests in Afghanistan. It could take their attention away from us and redirect them to Pakistan.

RAY SUAREZ: Concerned about their own security? So if a more aggressive move perhaps could arguably aid U.S. interests in that part of the world, Anatol, it could be risky for the Musharraf government?

ANATOL LIEVEN: It could certainly help U.S. interests in Afghanistan. It could take their attention away from us and redirect them to Pakistan. The problem is, though, that the terrorist threat to my country -- Britain, for example -- comes not so much from the tribal areas as such, but from extremists scattered throughout Pakistan society. I mean, the Pakistani diaspora in Britain doesn't come from the tribal areas or, indeed, from the Pashtun areas in general. And its connections are to people living in Pakistani Kashmir, in Lahore, in Karachi...

RAY SUAREZ: So urbanites?

ANATOL LIEVEN: Urbanites. If they gain more recruits as a result of Pakistani action in the tribal areas, we will have helped our cause in Afghanistan, which is a good thing in itself, but we won't necessarily have helped our cause more widely in the war on terror.

RAY SUAREZ: So it's kind of hard to figure out, Robert Grenier, just whose interests are served and for how long by this truce ending.

ROBERT GRENIER: It's very, very complicated. And anything that you do to aid one part of the fight almost necessarily makes it more difficult for you in another part of the struggle. And I think that is particularly true in the context of the effort to bring the northwest province, and specifically the federal administered tribal areas, fully under the control of the central government in Pakistan. Unless and until that happens, we won't really turn a corner on the problem with the extremism along the border.

RAY SUAREZ: And are there things going on in domestic Pakistani politics that sort of hem Pervez Musharraf in right now?

ROBERT GRENIER: Oh, very clearly. There are major elements in the Pakistani political system who are overtly allied with extremists in the northwest frontier, so they can be counted upon to make a good deal of domestic political trouble for Musharraf as he tries to move forward on his efforts to undercut the extremists.

RAY SUAREZ: Robert Grenier, Anatol Lieven, gentlemen, thank you both.