PESHAWAR, Dec 22: Is it time to revisit the North Waziristan deal? Indications are that the government is contemplating to at least make a re-assessment of the September 5 agreement that drew international criticism and brought new pressure from the US and the Nato to dismantle ‘safe heavens’ for the Taliban and Al Qaeda in its tribal borderlands.
Governor NWFP Lt-Gen (retd) Ali Mohammed Jan Aurakzai, the sole architect of the agreement, has convened a meeting of the 45-member inter-tribal grand jirga at the Governor House on Saturday to take stock of the post-September 5 scenario in the restive tribal region.
The Saturday meeting will not only take stock of the situation in North Waziristan but also assess its implementation in the backdrop of criticism that Pakistan has capitulated to the militants and that the agreement has done nothing to stem cross-border infiltration and deal with the presence of foreign militants.Director US National Intelligence John Negro Ponte said Pakistan would have to reckon with the situation sooner or later while the State Department acknowledged that the situation along the Pak-Afghan border was ‘a mess’.
The two statements coming one after the other in the last week or so from key figures of the US establishment were a clear departure from the more cautious wait-and-see approach of the Bush administration.
The statements have come amid concerns in the US and the Nato that an emboldened Taliban would use the winter break in fighting to make more recruitment, train, arm and reorganise in time for the so-called spring offensive early next year.
Pakistan, on its part, has been steadfast in sticking to its argument that the North Waziristan agreement offered the only approach to resolve the issue through negotiations as coercive tactics have failed to achieve its objectives.
But Lt-Gen Aurakzai's latest initiative to reconvene the inter-tribal jirga and discuss the situation betrays a sense of urgency as well as unease to cope with mounting pressure from the principal backers of the war on terrorism.
The inter-tribal jirga is expected to be told to revisit Miramshah, regional headquarters of the volatile North Waziristan, and discuss the situation with the main interlocutors, in this case the militants, and the 15-member oversight committee that was formed to liaise between the government and militants.
Government officials who defend the agreement acknowledge that while it did not offer a perfect solution to what is a very complex issue, it did offer a window of opportunity to deal with a very difficult situation.
The agreement has been successful in that both militants and government ceased hostilities against each other and there is now a semblance of peace in the restive tribal region.
But if reports are anything to go by, it failed to address three main issues: the setting up of parallel administration, cross-border infiltration and presence of foreign militants.
Some circles now privately acknowledge that the failure to implement the agreement on those critical issues lie in the government failure in the post-September 5 scenario to open up direct channels of communication with militants calling the shots and broaden the base of the agreement to include tribal figures, as well as the ineffectiveness of the oversight committee to ensure its implementation.
It is a fact that while the agreement was signed with the militants, it did not include tribal elders which would have made it more effective in terms of the implementation of its clauses. It also did not let the oversight committee work more than just liaise between the two parties to the agreement to oversee and ensure its implementation.
There are additional problems that the government would need to address before it sends the tribal jirga to Miramshah.
Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the key militant leader and principle interlocutor in the agreement, is precariously poised in the absence of full backing from former mujahideen and Taliban commander, Jalaluddin Haqqani.
This is reflected in his inability to extend the term of the agreement and influence to neighbouring Mirali sub-district in North Waziristan, an area security officials acknowledge is infested with foreign militants.
Mr Bahadar, though well-meaning, is also delicately poised to take on foreign militants both in Miramshah and Mirali, owing to his own limited influence and full support from the senior Taliban leadership.
And this is despite the fact that there is growing local unease and discomfort with foreign militants, particularly those of the central Asian origin due to growing kidnappings, robberies and target killings.
The government, on its part, has also demonstrated a certain sense of paralysis and numbness to seize the opportunity and exploit differences amongst militant commanders on dealing with the issue of foreign militants in South and North Waziristan. Dithering and reluctance to take quick crucial decisions on the part of the administration contributed to the present state of affairs in the tribal region. The decision to post good and competent officers on Friday to make use of their imagination and exploit the situation should have been made earlier.Given the state of affairs and mounting pressure on Pakistan to deal with cross-border infiltration and foreign militants, the government appears to be caught between the rock and the hard place. The choices are stark and options very limited.
However, there are no indications that the government is in a mood to resort to the military option to handle the situation at hand. Even in terms of political solution, it has very limited room to manoeuvre, apart from the option to rely on the inter-tribal jirga to press the interlocutors to live up to their promises and make them agree to broaden its base to include tribal elders and grant more authority to the oversight committee to ensure the implementation of the September 5 agreement.
Reopening the North Waziristan Agreement, for whatever it is, and renegotiating it would be a dangerous move that would further complicate matters. Instead the government now needs to build on it and press home the point to the tribal elders and militants that time is running out and better act now than regret later.