The interconnections between different militant groups operating in the Waziristan agencies is becoming increasingly apparent as the state edges closer to an armed confrontation with Baitullah Mehsud’s network in South Waziristan Agency. The latest sign that the state is confronted with a hydra-headed militancy threat has come with the scrapping of a peace deal signed in mid-February 2008 with tribal elders in North Waziristan Agency.
The deal had been approved by a grand jirga of 286 elders of the Dawar and Wazir sub-tribes of the Utmanzai and, among other things, barred the Taliban from setting up a ‘parallel government’ and required that they not attack government and security forces personnel in the agency. The February 2008 peace deal was itself meant to revive and build on an earlier peace deal struck with a ‘sympathetic’ Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur in September 2006.
The difference the second time round was that the deal was supposed to apply to the entire North Waziristan Agency (as opposed to the earlier one which was limited to Miramshah where Gul Bahadur held sway) and was supposed to be guaranteed by the 280-odd tribal elders rather than the 45-member ‘monitoring committee’ that had failed to oversee the implementation of the first deal.
Yet, problems were always apparent. While the February 2008 deal was signed by tribal elders, it was the Taliban who held all the power and called the shots in the agency. Then events last month suggested that the deal was all but dead in name. The kidnapping of students of the Razmak Cadet College, an ambush that killed four soldiers in a military convoy moving along the Miramshah-Mirali road, another deadly ambush of a convoy on Sunday that killed 27 — all these incidents and more have been blamed on Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
When the deal was officially scrapped on Monday by Gul Bahadur’s Taliban, the reasons given were the drone strikes and the presence of troops in North Waziristan. But there is a suspicion that the operation in Frontier Region Bannu and the one impending in South Waziristan are the real reasons for scrapping the deal.
Therein lies the rub: Gul Bahadur had long been considered a ‘friendly’ Taliban leader by the state because he hadn’t been a thorn in its side, but the ‘friendliness’ only lasted while the state took a hands-off approach to militant groups in surrounding areas. Now that South Waziristan and FR Bannu are in the state’s crosshairs, Gul Bahadur has apparently chosen to side with his Taliban brethren. The problems for the state in the Waziristan agencies keep growing.