Pakistan frees 145 Taliban fighters as negotiations progress
Pakistan appears to be progressing in its efforts to cut yet another peace deal with the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Faqir Mohammed, the Movement's commander in Bajaur, who is closely allied with al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, told Reuters that the government has already freed 145 Taliban fighters, and said he believes that further deals will be struck in the settled district of Swat and in the tribal agencies of South Waziristan, Mohmand, and Arakzai. Faqir also said that Pakistan and Afghanistan should unite in waging jihad against "foreign occupations by non-Muslims," a thinly veiled reference to NATO in Afghanistan and India in Kashmir. From Reuters:
"Our talks are going in the right direction," Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban in the Bajaur tribal agency and the No. 2 commander overall, told Reuters.
"If negotiations succeed and we are able to sign a peace agreement in Bajaur, then the government and the Taliban of other areas such as Swat, Mohmand, Orakzai and South Waziristan tribal region will sign an agreement. Bajaur will be a role model for other areas."
"We have no wish to fight against our own armed forces and destroy our own country," he said.
"There has been development in our peace talks, but the government would have to show more flexibility in its stance, and restore the trust of Taliban by releasing their prisoners and stop military operations against them."
Mohammad said Pakistan had released 145 members of the group as a gesture of goodwill, and the militants had pledged a cease-fire. He added that Pakistan and Afghanistan should unite against what he called foreign occupations by non-Muslims.
It is somewhat ironic that the US, which is pushing hard to negotiate with the "Afghan Taliban," is concerned about Pakistan's negotiations. From The Express Tribune:
[White House spokesman] Hayden said that the White House was not in a position to comment on the details of any such talks. "Our overall views on reconciliation are well known as is our view that Pakistan has an important role to play. When it comes to the TTP, we continue to underscore to Pakistan that groups such as the TTP threaten Pakistan and the region," said Hayden.
The White House spokesperson added, "persistent safe-havens continue to allow Al Qaeda, the TTP and others to destabilise Pakistan." Hayden also said that "The Pakistani military has made advances against the TTP, and we would not want to see these gains lost. We also continue to be concerned about militant violence against Pakistani civilians." The White House spokesperson said that they would continue to watch the situation closely.
The US has good reasons to doubt that the Pakistani Taliban will keep its word, however. Past peace deals in North and South Waziristan, Kurram, Khyber, Arakzai, Mohmand, Bajaur, and Swat have all collapsed and only contributed to the growth of both the Taliban and al Qaeda, in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan.
Without a doubt, a peace agreement between the Pakistani government and the Taliban will lead to an increased level of violence in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis have encouraged the Taliban to fight in Afghanistan in the past, and given the current deteriorating relations between the US and Pakistan, there is no reason to believe Pakistan will not continue to do so.
Astonishingly, despite what has repeatedly happened with Taliban peace deals in Pakistan, many US and NATO officials nonetheless believe that the core of the Afghan Taliban (the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network) will be willing to abide by the terms of peace negotiations to be arranged with the West.