Wednesday, February 18, 2009

U.S. Backs Pakistan-Taliban Cease Fire?

So says the Telegraph:

On Tuesday night however, US officials in Islamabad privately backed the deal as an attempt to drive a wedge between Swat's Taliban, which is focused on its demand for Sharia law, and the al-Qaeda-linked Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud, the notorious commander who controls much of North and South Waziristan and other tribal areas along the Afghan border.

While they expressed fears that the deal might yet be sabotaged by some Swat Taliban militants who support al-Qaeda, they said that if successful, the deal would break up the alliance between the two groups, which has caused alarm throughout Pakistan and in Washington.

Of the two Taliban groups, Mehsud's is the most feared – he has been accused of masterminding the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and trained Osama bin Laden's son as one of his commanders – but it is the alliance with Swat Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah which alarmed Pakistanis in the country's main metropolitan centres.

American officials in Islamabad said they hoped it would divide Fazlullah's Swat Taliban and his father-in-law's TNSM from Baitullah Mehsud's Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

"The strategy has to be to divide the two groups. The TNSM and Baitullah's TTP found some common cause briefly, but a peace deal will separate them," said one US official, who explained that while Mehsud's TTP is part of the global jihad, Maulana Radio is regarded as more focused on local issues and the campaign for Sharia law.

Clever, though I suspect that American officials are over-estimating the divide between Fazlullah and Baitullah. I suppose a cease-fire with Fazlullah is the lesser of two evils, the other evil being unity between Fazlullah and Baitullah. Still, who imagines an area dominated by Fazlullah's Taliban where Sharia law is the law of the land, is a positive development for Pakistan?

No comments: