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cutting deals with the taliban

In September 2006, Pakistan's military negotiated a cease-fire with militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan. It wasn't the first time: In 2004, President Musharraf ordered the army to cut a deal with Taliban militants led by 27-year-old commander Nek Mohammed. It quickly fell apart. Here's perspectives on why Pakistan has tried to negotiate with the militants, and whether this can ever work.

Editor's Note: These interviews were conducted in the summer of 2006, before the news of the latest peace deal in North Waziristan.

U.S. ambassador to Pakistan

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Ryan Crocker

One of the things they have done in the past and are doing now is talking with the militants. In 2004, they cut deals with the militants; in 2005, another set of deals with the militants. These deals involve agreements on the part of the militants not to attack the Pakistanis, but they seem not to include any language about cross-border raids. How is it that this, our ally in the war on terror, can cut such deals without you loudly complaining?

I've had a number of discussions with the leadership here in recent days, and the point has been made repeatedly to me that while a political solution is ultimately the only outcome that is going to fully stabilize the areas, there are several governmental redlines in the process, and it's been made clear to me that these include cross-border militant activities. They will not be tolerated. And second, no foreigners will be permitted to shelter in the tribal areas. So I think two key concerns of ours [are] very clearly shared by the Pakistanis, and again, that's been made clear to me.

But in 2004, a deal was cut with Nek Mohammed, the Taliban commander. Money was paid to the Taliban. We have seen continuing since then cross-border raids, sanctuary, and Pakistan's become a launching pad for attacks against U.S. forces. So what's going to be different now?

Well, I think the Pakistanis have clearly seen that again, we are joined against a common enemy. The Pakistani military has lost a lot of troops just since the beginning of this year. [There were] two attacks by the neo-Taliban militants. I think it's pretty clear to them that there are some people with whom deals simply are not going to be possible. We all learn from experience, and I think that applies here, too.

They made deals with the Wana Five, as they're called.


Haji Omar is a member of that. At a ceremony commemorating the death of Nek Mohammed just a few days ago, he stated: "We will continue to run suicide missions against U.S. forces in Afghanistan." But yet he's somebody who has a standing agreement with the Pakistan military. How do you respond to that?

First, I do not think there are any standing agreements. Whatever agreements may have been there clearly were repudiated by the militants. What we've seen in these last few months is that some of these people with whom certain commanders may have thought they could get deals with have come at them with full force, and that obviously includes members of the Wana Five. …

Look, this is a complicated problem. It's a problem that affects us, but it's a problem on their soil. They've been trying to figure out what approaches work, and in the process they discovered some that don't, and they moved on and in different directions. What they're embarked on now is a way forward that makes a lot a sense to me.

Using some incentives -- because it would be a very dangerous thing for any of us to think that the way forward is to fight all the tribes all the time -- it's to come to understandings with everyone with whom understanding is possible on the basis of certain conditions that I laid out earlier, and those who aren't going to play in that league, you're just going to have to fight. I think that's the lesson that's been learned over these last couple a years here.

But that means that you would approve the idea of talking with the militants before using a stick.

... There are some people that you can't do deals with. To a simple Western mind, that seemed clear at the time -- to me at least, when I came here in late 2004. I believe the government now, that they are going to try for a broad-gauged understanding with the tribes who have some concerns of their own on economic and social development and collateral damage and so forth. But what I'm not hearing is that they're going to repeat the Nek Mohammed or Sharif Khan, Wana Five sort of process, because these guys have shown they are not going to quit.

Author, Ghost Wars: The CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden

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Steve Coll

… When the Pakistan army went up to South Waziristan and got whacked pretty quickly, they started to negotiate, in part because they didn't have another card to play.

They're very weak.

They're very weak.

So they're negotiating. … What do they hope to get for this, and what happened?

The basic idea of Pakistani strategy was to renew the approach to managing the frontier that dated back to the British period, which was essentially to operate through cooption, bribery and the construction of infrastructure to find political intermediaries in villages and towns on the frontier who would be willing to work with the Pakistan army in order to reap the benefits of the Pakistan army's patronage. That's the way the frontier has been managed, to the extent it's been managed, for a long time.

But they weren't negotiating with tribal elders; they were negotiating with the Wana Five, led by Nek Mohammed, a young, 27-year-old Taliban commander.

What the Pakistanis discovered when they hunkered down in South Waziristan is that the old political intermediaries in Waziristan and elsewhere in the tribal areas had been essentially overtaken by religious commanders and religious networks. Someone like Nek Mohammed represents the new authority in Waziristan.

Pakistanis attempted to negotiate with him the way they used to try to negotiate with the old authority, but it turns out that the Islamists are not as interested in the patronage of the Pakistani state as traditional tribal elders had occasionally been. ...

My understanding is that when the negotiations failed, it was an embarrassment, obviously, for Musharraf with the Americans. He had taken some heat already with the Americans when he stopped his military operations after the early casualties that he faced.

ismail kahn

Journalist, Dawn and The New York Times

Ismail Khan

We were negotiating with the same sort of people who caused this whole problem. They were abetting foreign militants, and supporting them. So we signed … those peace agreements and it didn't work. The president has acknowledge that it was a mistake to have signed those agreements, because they didn't work in the first place. …

The government was very optimistic -- and wrongly, I would say -- that these militants would give up on foreign militants and would get them to register. This was a concession or an offer given to the commanders, the militant commanders, that get them registered with the government, they can have amnesty for the foreign militants. But I was there on the day when those peace agreements were signed at the militant commanders. And I talked to Nek Mohammed immediate after when he made the speech and embraced General Safdar Hussein.

He went into a room and I went after him and I said, you know, "Well, what about foreign militants?" He said, "There are no foreign militants." And I [realized] it won't work.

Because he was lying?

Because, I mean, he was lying and because the government had wrongly presumed that it would work and somehow or another it would be able to convince these commanders.

How? With money?

Oh, they would pay money also. This was part of the deal because some of these commanders had come up and said, "Look, you know, we owed a lot of money to Al Qaeda because we had borrowed money for logistics or support for blah blah blah." …

Wait a minute, the government of Pakistan, which is America's partner in the war, is offering back in 2004 to pay money for the militants to pay their debts to Al Qaeda?

Yes, I mean, there was this demand. I mean, later on the militant commanders, actually, they said, you know, "We didn't say that it was for Al Qaeda. We said that this was compensation for the damage that we had suffered. Our houses had been burned, bomb targeted, you know, property was damaged, people were killed. And this was compensation money that we had demanded." …

And they got the money, but they balked on registration of foreign militants?


So the deal falls apart?

Exactly. …

Pakistani president

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Gen. Pervez Musharraf

The United States military was frustrated when they saw the approach you took through your corps commander, Safdar Hussein, in 2004 by negotiating deals with Taliban commanders. Was that a successful strategy?

No, no, I think it didn't prove [effective], but one should never speak with hindsight. You have to apply all instruments -- military, political, administrative -- to succeed. Now, we thought if we reached an agreement, that would be the end of it; they will suppress it to peaceful means.

Well, it proved wrong, because the people who got involved on the other side, they double-crossed. …

What was the agreement?

The agreement was that the militants are going to either lay down arms or they are going to be shunted out of the place, and the locals are going to cooperate with the army in asking these militants to either get off Pakistan or lay down their arms. That was basically the agreement and the cooperation between our own people with the military.

Was that a written agreement?

Yes, there was a written agreement, but one can't say that it had any legal binding as such. It was an agreement between the corps commander and one of the local militant leaders, I would say.

But it had your backing?

Yes. When the corps commander was reaching an agreement, he told me that he was going to have an agreement with [pro-Taliban Pakistani tribal leader] Nek Mohammed. …

Rahimullah Yusefzai

Journalist, BBC

Rahimullah Yusufzai

During this period Safdar Hussein is negotiating with Nek Mohammad, what are the Americans saying?

… There were a few public statements expressing concern for these agreements. And they thought that these people don't deserve any amnesty.

But Pakistanis thought that, you know, it's a very difficult area. And you must use the traditional methods which was to hold [jirgas], to use the tribal elders to bring peace, to try an do all things peacefully through negotiations, through the local custom. …

And then, this idea that if we use force, then you are struck because these people are… very good fighters. And they fought really bravely also against past imperialists like the British.

Did their approach work?

… Yes, in a way. The number of attacks against the army, against the government decreased. The infiltration across the border into Afghanistan decreased as well. Also, the army had already captured some of their bases, all hideouts. …

The deal, the peace agreements also strengthen the position of the militants because they could say that, "Look, the army has come to us. A general was here. And he accepted all strength, all power, and he was forced to sign peace agreements with us." And they weren't required … to produce any foreign militants.


Journalist, Al Jazeera

Ahmad Zaidan

The military did attempt some negotiations beginning in '04. You were there at Shikai Valley.


This was an unusual kind of arrangement where the military would go to the tribal areas, and make a kind of agreement with Nek Mohammed, who was a known Taliban commander.

Maybe sorry to say these things because since you are American, you can't understand the traditions and the historical context of this area. You have to do it because after all, these tribal areas have been ruled indigenously for hundreds of years. As Pakistani [military] coming to this area, you are regarded … as foreign intervention, the same American intervention.

So now, if you are coming there and you have that things in your subconscious, or have that things in your psyche that look, I am foreign intervention, you have to deal with the people who are on the ground [such as] Nek Mohammed and you have to make deal with them. Otherwise, they will regard you as foreign intervention and they will fight you like, you know, they are fighting foreign intervention.

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posted oct. 3, 2006

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