February 19, 2007

Rice: US Disappointed By Waziristan Truce

Spring in Afghanistan usually means another Taliban offensive, and NATO forces expect an unusually energetic effort from the radical Islamists this year. The truce given by Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf to the tribes of Waziristan has given the Taliban more latitude in building up their forces for the offensive, a situation that Condoleezza Rice finds disappointing:

Fears that Taliban militants are preparing to launch a spring offensive from Pakistan's tribal areas are straining relations between President Pervez Musharraf and his US-led allies.

American officials are increasingly vocal about the dangers of Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan and in particular North Waziristan, one of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal agencies, where General Musharraf struck a controversial peace deal last September. American generals say cross-border incursions have soared since then.

On Friday Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, spoke of "problems and disappointments" with the situation in Waziristan.

Pakistan is hitting back at the criticism with irate impatience. On Friday Ali Jan Aurakzai, the governor of North West Frontier Province, accused western allies of scapegoating Pakistan for their own failures in Afghanistan.

In comments sure to needle Nato, he described the Taliban insurgency as a "war of liberation" fought by disaffected tribesmen and which enjoys broad public support. Pakistan accounts for just "five, 10 or 20%", of the problem, he said.

That kind of rhetoric won't help matters, either. The Pakistanis have sacrificed in making themselves allies of the US, and Pervez Musharraf has weathered two separate assassination attempts for his decision. However, the agreement Musharraf made with the Waziris has allowed the Islamists to double and treble their attacks on Afghanistan, whether Musharraf wants to acknowledge it or not.

And even that deal has broken down. Pakistan claims that they have 90 checkpoints along the border in that region, but the truth is that the tribes simply aren't keeping the bargain. They are allowing Taliban elements to infiltrate in greater numbers than ever, and they are not cooperating with the Pakistanis tp capture them as they promised.

The Taliban have begun to overwhelm the Waziris themselves. They now levy taxes and run shari'a courts in Waziristan. Worse yet, they have used Waziristan as a power base to conduct terrorist attacks in Pakistani cities. The recent bombing of a courthouse in Quetta, which killed 16 people, originated among the Islamists in Waziristan.

Rice has it right when she calls the situation disappointing. None of us understood why Musharraf would have trusted the Taliban and signed off on an agreement like this with people who want him dead. Everything we've seen since confirms the original diagnosis.


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