What used to be a blunder is now a disaster. Pakistani jihadists killed dozens of people in Waziristan and declared war on General Pervez Musharraf’s government, abrogating a foolhardy truce they signed with Musharraf last year that gave them time and breathing space to regroup.
In September 2006, Musharraf, president of Pakistan, made an enormous mistake. Seeking to end a bloody and politically troublesome conflict with al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in the tribal province of Waziristan, Musharraf and several militant leaders negotiated a truce. The terms were fairly simple: If Musharraf withdrew his army from the province, the jihadists would expel “foreigners” — meaning al-Qaeda — cease provocations against the government, and prevent cross-border exfiltration of militants into neighboring Afghanistan.From the beginning, the truce looked like capitulation. NATO, U.S. and Afghan officials reported serious increases in militant activity coming from Pakistan. Extremists, sensing Musharraf’s weakness, upped their calls for Musharraf’s overthrow, resulting in the Red Mosque showdown that finally ended last week. And U.S. intelligence officials began detecting movements of cash and personnel into Waziristan from jihadists in the Middle East — and particularly from Iraq — giving credence to the speculation that Osama bin Laden is using his new Waziristan safe haven to reestablish control over his terrorist network.
Largely in response to Musharraf’s crackdown on Islamabad’s radical Red Mosque, Waziristan jihadis planted a suicide bomber in a police station to kill recruits as they took an entrance exam, targeted an Army convoy with gunmen and roadside bombs, and launched attacks throughout the province. The body count has yet to stabilize. Musharraf is moving thousands of troops in Waziristan that were previously confined to their barracks toward the Afghan border, but, reports Tom Lasseter for McClatchy, “it is not clear, though, whether the build-up is for a large scale operation or simply to add enough troops to maintain stability.”
For diametrically opposing reasons, jihadists and secularists want Musharraf gone. (The secularists, of course, don’t want to kill him.) How he responds to the collapse of the Waziristan truce will go a long way in determining whether he holds on to power — and, more importantly, whether al-Qaeda holds on to its latest base of operations.
UPDATE: AFP reports that Pakistani officials are in talks with Waziristan tribal leaders to see if the truce can be restored. Whether this is last-minute diplomacy before an assault or an attempt to return to the pre-attack status quo is as yet unclear.