The Taliban control the border with Afghanistan.
INTELLIGENCE ANALYSTS woke up on September 5 to unsettling news. The government of Pakistan, they learned, had entered into a peace agreement with the Taliban insurgency that essentially cedes authority in North Waziristan, the mountainous tribal region bordering Afghanistan, to the Taliban and al Qaeda. Just ten days later, the blow was compounded when the government of Pakistan released a large number of jihadists from prison. Together, these events may constitute the most significant development in the global war on terror in the past year--yet the media have taken little notice.
For four years, the Pakistani military engaged in a campaign to assert governmental control over Wazir istan. The cost to Pakistan has been considerable; some intelligence sources believe this fighting has exacted a higher death toll on the Pakistani military than U.S. forces have sustained in Iraq. It is in this context that Pakistan gave up on South Waziristan last spring, abandoning its effort to control that area. Thereafter, sharia law was declared in South Waziristan, and the Taliban began to rule openly.
Yet even in the wake of Pakistan's earlier surrender of South Waziristan, this new agreement, known as the Waziristan Accord, is surprising. It entails a virtually unconditional surrender of Waziristan.
The agreement is, to put it mildly, a boon to the terrorists and a humiliation for the Pakistani government. Even the circumstances under which it was signed point to Pakistan's impotence in the face of a determined adversary. Taliban fighters searched government negotiators and military officers for weapons before allowing them to enter the meeting, which took place in a soccer stadium in the North Waziristan capital of Miranshah. According to three separate intelligence sources, heavily armed Taliban were posted as guards around the ceremony, and al Qaeda's black flag hung over the scoreboard.
Immediately after the Pakistani delegation left, al Qaeda's flag was run up the flagpole of abandoned military checkpoints, and the Taliban began looting leftover small arms. The Taliban also held a "parade" in the streets of Miranshah. Clearly, they view their "truce" with Pakistan as a victory. It is trumpeted as such on jihadist websites.
And with good reason. The accord provides that the Pakistani army will abandon outposts and border crossings throughout Waziristan. Pakistan's military agreed that it will no longer operate in North Waziristan or monitor actions in the region. Pakistan will return weapons and other equipment seized during Pakistani army operations. And the Pakistani government essentially paid a tribute to end the fighting when it agreed to pay compensation for property destroyed during combat--an unusual move since most of the property that was destroyed belonged to factions that had consciously decided to harbor terrorists.
Of particular concern is the provision allowing non-Pakistani militants to continue to reside in Waziristan as long as they promise to "keep the peace." Keeping the peace will, in practice, be defined as refraining from attacks on the Pakistani military. Meanwhile, since the military won't be monitoring the militants' activities, they can plan and train for terrorist attacks or work to bolster the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan without being seen to violate the treaty. Although the agreement does stipulate that there "shall be no cross-border movement for militant activity in neighboring Afghanistan," the provision amounts to mere wishful thinking since the Pakistani military has already agreed not to monitor the area.
The ramifications of the loss of Waziristan are tremendous. The region that Pakistan has ceded to the Taliban and al Qaeda is about the size of New Jersey, with a population of around 800,000.
Since the Waziristan Accord will facilitate rather than hinder the cross-border movement of Islamic fighters, security and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan will be hampered. The Taliban and al Qaeda now have a new safe haven, and with it the freedom to train, arm, and infiltrate foot soldiers and suicide cells into Afghanistan with little fear of reprisal from the Pakistani government. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has admitted that the Taliban "are crossing from the Pakistan side and causing bomb blasts in Afghanistan," yet his solution is to cede government authority over the tribal areas.
Internationally, Waziristan will serve as a training base for al Qaeda operatives of all stripes, as well as jihadists who want to attack their home countries. The 9/11 Commission Report notes that catastrophic terror attacks require sanctuaries that provide "time, space, and ability to perform competent planning and staff work." Al Qaeda has gained a new sanctuary in Waziristan.