Intelligence Brief: Musharraf Struggles Against Tribal Militants
With the U.S.- and N.A.T.O.-led nation building effort in Afghanistan seriously challenged by a resilient Taliban insurgency, Washington and the Atlantic organization are now trying to launch an effective counter-offensive predicated on two main axes. First, they are calling upon N.A.T.O. members to upgrade their efforts and to provide the coalition with new troops. Up to now, the response has not been satisfactory even though some countries, like Poland, have agreed to provide more troops. As PINR stated on September 15, "notwithstanding Poland's move, it is unlikely that N.A.T.O. will be able to secure the number of troops necessary to fulfill its military needs in Afghanistan. As a result, the U.S.-led coalition's political goals and security needs will be at risk, with dangerous consequences for Washington's credibility and strategic aims." [See: "Intelligence Brief: N.A.T.O.'s Troubles in Afghanistan Will Persist"]
Second, N.A.T.O. and its allies are taking new military initiatives in southern Afghanistan and are likely pressuring Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to respond to potential threats in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (F.A.T.A.) and North-West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P.). During an air operation on October 30, Pakistani forces reportedly killed some 80 alleged insurgents in Bajaur Agency in F.A.T.A. Some sources claim that N.A.T.O. forces took part in the operation. If this accusation is true, Musharraf's political prestige and credibility in Pakistan will suffer. N.A.T.O.'s possible role in the operation also means that Washington's confidence in Islamabad's willingness and capability to crack down on Taliban militants is gone.
Regardless of whether N.A.T.O. was involved in the operation, Musharraf was likely pressured by the United States and N.A.T.O. to act; on the same day of the bombing campaign, for instance, Musharraf was expected to sign a peace deal with the very militants he attacked. Much of the instability in Afghanistan is a result of the Taliban's ability to launch attacks on Afghan soil, and then withdraw across the border into Pakistan's tribal areas where they can resupply and regroup.
During 2006, Musharraf's stance toward Taliban militant activities in Afghanistan and their use of F.A.T.A. and the N.W.F.P. as launch pads for operations against the United States and its allies has been ambiguous. Although Islamabad has not reversed its position officially, and remains a U.S. ally against terrorism and against the Taliban insurgency, it has also acted more independently than before and even brokered a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan in early September 2006.
Musharraf's peace deal has had negative effects on his capabilities to contain the Taliban's militant activities in Afghanistan. Hence, N.A.T.O. is likely increasing pressure on Pakistan to take military action, which may have important negative consequences both on Musharraf's administration and on the future of strategic cooperation between the United States and Pakistan. Furthermore, it is not clear whether antagonizing the Taliban is in Islamabad's interests. If Western forces are unable to quell the current Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, they will either need to withdraw from the country or encourage a form of power-sharing government in Kabul that would include Taliban leaders. If this occurs, then Islamabad will need to retain influence with the Pashtun tribes that the Taliban draws its ranks from; these tribes populate the Pak-Afghan border region on both sides and do not recognize the territorial division between the two states.
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