Reviewing Pakistan’s Peace Deals with the Taliban

Sep 26, 2012

By the end of 2014, normal U.S. combat forces are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan. As this departure date approaches, Afghanistan and its U.S.-led allies continue to explore potential peace deals with the Afghan Taliban. At the same time, the Pakistani government is reportedly considering its own peace talks with factions of the Pakistani Taliban—the conglomerate responsible for daily small-arms and suicide bomb attacks in Pakistani territory.[1]

Since the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban, Islamabad has entered into a handful of peace deals with factions belonging to the group—both written and unwritten—in attempts to placate the militants. Most of these peace deals, however, resulted in the further strengthening of the Pakistani Taliban, and only a few of the agreements lasted beyond a few months. Violence flared not long after the agreements became effective, and the Pakistani Taliban then demanded even further concessions from the government. The only exception was the situation in the Swat Valley, where the government launched an aggressive military operation against the Pakistani Taliban after the peace deal failed to render any results. In that case, the Mullah Fazlullah-led Pakistani Taliban faction was forced to flee the Swat Valley, and that region remains in control of the government today.

This article reviews the key peace agreements reached between Islamabad and various Pakistani Taliban factions, and it assesses whether the deals achieved their objectives.

The Shakai Peace Agreement, April 2004
In April 2004, the Shakai agreement was reached between Nek Muhammad Wazir of the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani government.[2] The peace deal was the first of its kind since the emergence of the Taliban in Pakistan, and it would become the cornerstone of future such agreements between the government and militants in the tribal areas.

The deal came after the government launched a military operation in March 2004 to pressure Nek Muhammad to cease supporting foreign militants, such as Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks in South Waziristan Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). After the military operation was ineffective, and Pakistan sustained heavy casualties, the government entered into the Shakai agreement with Nek Muhammad.[3] As part of the peace deal, the Pakistani government agreed to release Taliban prisoners, pay compensation to tribesmen for property damage as a result of its military operations, and provide money to the militants so that they could repay their debt to al-Qa`ida.[4] For his part, Nek Muhammad agreed to register foreign militants and stop cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

At the time of the signing, Nek Muhammad was a relatively obscure militant. When Pakistan’s military leaders sat down with Nek Muhammad, who was only in his 20s, it provided him stature he previously did not have, and it also reduced the importance of the area’s tribal elders as well as the centuries-old tribal system that had always been the method for resolving disputes.

Immediately after the signing of the agreement, Nek Muhammad refused to surrender foreign militants to the government, and his faction began to assassinate tribal elders who helped negotiate the agreement.[5] The government then revoked Nek Muhammad’s amnesty deal, and launched another military operation against his faction in June 2004.

The Shakai agreement proved to be a failure, and what eventually stopped Nek Muhammad was a missile fired from a U.S. drone, which killed him in June 2004.[6]

Srarogha Peace Agreement, February 2005
In February 2005, the Pakistani government reached a peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud of the Pakistani Taliban in the Srarogha area of South Waziristan Agency.[7] The government entered into peace negotiations with Baitullah after it recognized that Taliban attacks were spreading from the Ahmadzai Wazir areas to the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan. The government hoped to contain further Taliban expansion.

The deal reportedly specified that the government would compensate militants for homes razed or damaged during military operations.[8] The government also agreed not to target Baitullah Mehsud or his supporters. In response, the Mehsud militants did not have to lay down their weapons, nor did they have to surrender foreign militants in their ranks. The agreement only stipulated that they cease attacking Pakistani targets and refuse to give shelter to foreign militants. Similar to the case of Nek Muhammad, the military’s deal with Baitullah conveyed the message to all tribal leaders in South Waziristan that Baitullah was now the area’s strongman, providing him a new level of stature.

Clashes between the military and Taliban militants in South Waziristan increased in the subsequent months. The violence continued for years, proving that the peace deal served no purpose other than to prolong and spread militancy.

By July 2007, Pakistani security forces killed notorious militant leader Abdullah Mehsud, and Baitullah Mehsud himself was eventually killed by a U.S. drone strike in August 2009. Yet the organization he founded remains strong today, now led by Hakimullah Mehsud.

The Swat Agreement, May 2008
Since 2001, the Swat Valley suffered growing unrest after a cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, established a religious seminary and later delivered radical sermons to the local population through an illegal FM radio station. Fazlullah’s followers pursued a number of extremist policies, such as preventing girls from attending school and demanding that women not visit markets unless wearing burqas, or full body veils. After Pakistani security forces raided the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad in July 2007—an event that has had lasting contributory effects on militancy in Pakistan—Fazlullah’s struggle for the implementation of Shari`a took a more violent form.[9]

The violence continued until the newly-elected government in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province came to power in 2008.[10] The coalition government consisted of two secular parties—the Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party—and it hastily extended the offer of peace talks to the Taliban in Swat, hoping that their disagreements could be resolved through negotiations.

Following a series of meetings and discussions between Taliban representatives and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government both in the Swat Valley and in Peshawar, on May 21, 2008, the two sides reached a 16-point agreement to bring an end to violence and restore peace to the valley.[11]

Within days of inking the peace deal, disagreements arose. The Taliban refused to surrender their arms as stipulated in the agreement, demanding that the government first withdraw troops from the valley. They also demanded the release of Taliban prisoners held by Pakistan. Within a month, the militants began attacking government officials and installations, as well as destroying electronics shops and schools. This caused the government to launch the military operation Rah-e-Haq.[12]

This was followed by some of the worst violence to hit Swat, as schools were destroyed, police stations and army convoys attacked, and civilians kidnapped and beheaded. The violence only stopped when the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government agreed to implement the Shari`a-based Nizam-e-Adl regulation in Swat on February 15, 2009.[13] This led to Fazlullah declaring a cease-fire.

Even that agreement, however, failed in a month, and Swat suffered another bout of violence. Emboldened by the government’s concessions, the Fazlullah-led Taliban overran Mingora in May 2009, the commercial center of the Swat Valley, paralyzing the government.[14] The Taliban then pushed into neighboring Buner and Shangla districts, only 60 miles from Pakistan’s capital city.[15] The Taliban advance toward Islamabad rang alarm bells among the government and the military, and caused Pakistan to launch a decisive military operation against Maulana Fazlullah and his fighters.[16] Within two months of the major military operation, Maulana Fazlullah fled the Swat Valley, and many of his commanders were either arrested or killed.[17]

In the final analysis, the Swat agreement proved counterproductive, and merely allowed the Taliban to grow in strength during “peace” times. Once the Taliban were in a strong enough position to challenge Pakistan’s writ even further, they took that opportunity by moving into Mingora, and then Buner and Shangla districts. Moreover, the government’s failure to arrest or kill Maulana Fazlullah has come back to hurt the Pakistani state, as in the last few months he has been responsible for multiple attacks on Pakistani targets from his mountain redoubt in Afghanistan.[18]

Other Peace Deals/Understandings
Apart from the three major peace agreements in Shakai, Srarogha and Swat, Pakistan entered into unwritten peace deals with various militant groups in the tribal areas. One controversial agreement is with the North Waziristan-based commander Hafiz Gul Bahadar, who is mainly involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. The Pakistani government and Bahadar’s faction have basically agreed that in exchange for not attacking Pakistani interests, Islamabad will not target Bahadur.[19] Bahadur’s fighters move around freely in North Waziristan today.

A similar, but more covert deal was reportedly reached with militant commander Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur Agency after Operation Sherdil in August 2008.[20] Once the military operation concluded, there were various reports that Pakistani security forces had reached a non-aggression pact with the Bajaur militants.[21] Based on conversations with stakeholders in Bajaur, this secret agreement stipulates that Faqir Muhammad’s Taliban faction will not target Pakistani security forces nor kill civilian targets in areas where the security forces operate; in exchange, Pakistani security forces will not target Faqir Muhammad’s militants.

Authorities also entered into an unwritten agreement with Lashkar-i-Islam in Khyber Agency after Operation Sirat-e-Mustaqeem in June 2008.[22] Similar to the two agreements in Waziristan, Khyber authorities agreed to compensate the militants for property damage during the operation, as well as release several individuals held on charges of having ties to militants. Yet the agreement was quickly violated, and troops remain present in Khyber where they continue to conduct operations.

Conclusion
By reviewing Pakistan’s various peace agreements with Taliban militants, a number of commonalities become evident. All of the agreements were signed from a position of government weakness, and thus the militants were able to achieve significant concessions. The government never enforced its demands of disarmament or the surrendering of foreign militants. In the majority of cases, the government provided significant financial compensation to the militants on the pretext of property damage. This money likely exceeded the actual cost of damages, in effect providing militants funding for future operations.[23] Moreover, the agreements had the effect of adding prominence to militant leaders.

None of the agreements with Taliban factions involved in attacks in Pakistan lasted for more than a few months, and the breaking of each agreement resulted in severe bouts of violence including attacks on government installations, security forces and civilians.

From the Taliban’s perspective, by leveling demands at the government and then entering into negotiations, it demonstrates to civilians in the tribal areas that militant leaders are strong enough to sit at the same table as the country’s top military officials. This solidifies support for the Taliban among their followers, and suppresses the voices of resistance from civilian populations living under their authority.

Daud Khattak is Senior Editor with RFE/RL’s Mashaal Radio in Prague, Czech Republic. Besides working in Afghanistan as Editor at Pajhwok Afghan News from 2005-2008, he worked with Pakistani English newspapers covering the situation in KP and FATA. He also worked for Sunday Times London and contributed articles to the Christian Science Monitor. In 2010, his paper on the situation in Swat, “The Battle for Pakistan: Swat Valley,” was published by the New America Foundation.

[1] Tahir Khan, “Talks With Govt Suspended: TTP Leader,” Express Tribune, September 1, 2012.

[2] Rahimullah Yusufzai, “Profile: Nek Mohammed,” BBC, June 18, 2004.

[3] Personal interview, Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary of security for FATA, September 3, 2012. Shah was the key figure in the negotiation process with the tribal elders and drafting the agreement. Also see “Nek Mohammed,” PBS Frontline, undated.

[4] “Nek Mohammed.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] David Rohde and Mohammed Khan, “Ex-Fighter for Taliban Dies in Strike in Pakistan,” New York Times, June 19, 2004.

[7] Personal interview, Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary of security for FATA, September 3, 2012.

[8] Amir Mir, “War and Peace in Waziristan,” Asia Times Online, May 4, 2005.

[9] Griff Witte, “Raid at Islamabad Mosque Turns Long and Deadly,” Washington Post, July 11, 2007.

[10] Zakir Hassnain, “NWFP Cabinet Takes Oath,” Daily Times, April 3, 2008.

[11] Daud Khattak, “Text of Govt’s Agreement with Taliban,” Daily Times, May 22, 2008.

[12] “Militants Pull Out of Talks in Swat,” Dawn, June 30, 2008.

[13] Daud Khattak, “Govt, TNSM Agree on Nizam-e-Adl in Malakand,” Daily Times, February 16, 2009.

[14] “Taliban Take Over Mingora,” Daily Times, May 5, 2009.

[15] Pamela Constable, “Defiant Taliban Forces Advance to Within 60 Miles of Islamabad,” Washington Post, April 24, 2009.

[16] Bill Roggio, “Pakistan Launches Operation against the Taliban in Buner,” The Long War Journal, April 28, 2009.

[17] In this case, however, although Fazlullah was forced out of Pakistan’s settled areas, he now is reportedly attacking Pakistan repeatedly from Afghanistan’s Kunar Province.

[18] Zia Ur Rehman, “Taliban Militants Striking Pakistan from Afghan Territory,” CTC Sentinel 5:9 (2012).

[19] “Anti-US Rant: ‘Peace Treaty to Stay Intact Despite Polio Drive Ban,’” Express Tribune, June 20, 2012.

[20] “Bajaur Mission Fulfilled,” Dawn, September 1, 2008.

[21] “Peace-Making Denials Expose Taliban Divisions,” Express Tribune, December 12, 2011.

[22] Daud Khattak, “Mangal Bagh to Abide by Bara Peace Agreement,” Daily Times, July 12, 2008.

[23] The author has viewed first-hand damage to property in the tribal areas, and government compensation to militants has far exceeded the actual property damage.