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February 7, 2008

The Definition Of Insanity ....

Pervez Musharraf has apparently learned little from his tussle with the Taliban. Reports have Pakistan entering into negotiations .... again ... with the Taliban .... again ... for another cease-fire. This time, they have even more bargaining chips, having control of the Swat region:

Taliban militants declared a cease-fire Wednesday in fighting with Pakistani forces, and the government said it was preparing for peace talks with al-Qaida-linked extremists in the lawless tribal area near the border with Afghanistan.

Any deal that allows armed Islamic extremists to operate on Pakistani soil would run counter to U.S. demands for the government to crack down on militants. The Bush administration contends a failed truce last year allowed al-Qaida to expand its reach into this turbulent, nuclear-armed country, and the U.S. has sounded warnings in recent days about a revival of militant strength.

A spokesman for Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, a militant umbrella group, said the new cease-fire would include not only the tribal belt along the Afghan border but also the restive Swat region to the east where the army has also battled pro-Taliban fighters.

Two local Pakistani security officials told The Associated Press on Thursday that the truce followed secret talks with the militants and tribal elders. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

Two previous truces collapsed when the Taliban ended their hudna and used their gathered strength to attack Musharraf's forces. The previous truces allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda to consolidate their positions in the Waziristans and the North West Frontier Province. The Pakistani military had just begun an offensive against them in South Waziristan when the government called a halt to the operation. One Pakistani journalist wondered aloud why Musharraf bothered to start the operation in the first place, just to abandon it before even attempting to reach its objectives.

The worst aspect of this is the choice of partner for negotiation. The leader of Tehrik-e Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, is the man thought responsible for planning and ordering the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto's party reacted predictably, noting that Musharraf's own government holds Mehsud responsible for the assassination and condemning the talks.

If Musharraf concludes a peace treaty with a man who assassinates Pakistani political figures, it will send a message to the entire political class -- every man and woman for himself. It will also make clear that the way to get to the table with Musharraf is to pick off one or more of his political opponents. Don't think that message won't come across plainly in Pakistan.


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