The militant group Tehreek Nifaz‐e‐Shariat Mohammadi is currently in talks with the North‐West Frontier Province, one of Pakistan’s westernmost provinces, to have Shariah formally imposed in the province’s Malakand district. Both sides are hammering out details on the release of Sufi Muhammad, one of TNSM’s founders who was arrested by Pakistani authorities. The provincial government is also close to clinching a deal with Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the tribal‐based Islamic movement Tehrik‐e‐Taliban Pakistan, which operates as Pakistan’s version of the Taliban. Mehsud has been accused of playing a central role in a wave of deadly suicide attacks that engulfed Pakistan from November 2007 through January 2008, and was named by CIA Director Michael Hayden as the prime suspect behind the December assassination of Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto. One senior government official engaged in the talks says, “It’s now a matter of days before we have an agreement. The talks are in a very advanced stage.”
But any deal with pro‐Taliban groups is untenable, and recent events show why. Over the past year, Pakistan has been cutting ceasefire deals with various militant leaders. In August and September 2007, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the government decided to broker peace deals with native tribes after a series of Taliban ambushes at border checkpoints. Under the deal, the tribes agreed not to shelter foreign militants and Islamabad agreed not to arrest militants without consulting tribal elders. Similar arrangements were made in North Waziristan in September 2006, and the Bajaur Agency in March 2007, both administrative units along the Afghan border. But since initiated, all of the deals have failed, precipitating a resurgence of Taliban hostilities.
The deals were initially pursued because the Pakistani army and Frontier Corps experienced disastrous losses in confrontations with insurgents. In August, 250 Pakistani troops were captured by Tehrik‐e‐Taliban. In December, militants blew up a checkpoint in North‐West Frontier Province and kidnapped 10 policemen. And as of January there have been 36 suicide bombings directed against the army headquarters in Rawalpindi, the air force headquarters in Sargodha, and the naval war college in Lahore.
The region’s extremism is now harming U.S. interests. Just last month, dozens of oil tankers headed for NATO operations in Afghanistan were attacked in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. Last June, several trucks headed for Afghanistan were gutted by insurgents in a grenade attack. It was the third incident in a month. In addition, Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that the Taliban has regrouped, gained strength, and now attacks NATO forces in Afghanistan by using Pakistan’s tribal areas as a base of operations.