July 5, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistan suspends Khyber operation, peace negotiations underway

The Pakistani government has halted military operations in the tribal region of Khyber and has opened up negotiations with extremist groups in the region.

“The operation has been put on hold on the request of the tribal jirga [committee],” an unnamed official told Dawn. “They wanted a truce in accordance with tribal customs in order to hold talks with the other side. We have selected targets and the operation will resume if the jirga fails.”

The military has halted search operations and relaxed a curfew imposed in the Bara region, a stronghold of Lashkar-e-Islam, one of the two main extremist groups in the region. A government official said the cease-fire would last for 36 hours.

Negotiations began after tribal leaders met with Mangal Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam. Bagh ordered his forces not to resist at the onset of operation, but threatened to attack if operations against his supporters continued. The government demanded that Lashkar-e-Islam surrender its weapons and recognize the government's rule in the tribal areas.

The operation in Khyber began after a chorus of government, military, and civilian officials warned of the growing Taliban pressure on the provincial capital of Peshawar.

The government claimed it launched its offensive to target the Taliban-linked extremists groups of Ansar-ul-Islam, Lashkar-e-Islam, and a faction led by Haji Namdar. But Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice who allied with Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-e-Islam, was seen riding along with the Frontier Corps, Pakistan's paramilitary group assigned to conduct operations in Khyber. “He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum,” the Asia Times reported.

The Pakistani government claimed it arrest 92 “criminals” in Khyber and 128 more in Peshawar. Sixteen “militant compounds” were destroyed in Khyber, and 14 more have been “identified.”

But none of the senior or mid-level leaders of the three extremist groups have been killed or captured since the operation began six days ago. The government and military have been clear from the beginning of the operation that it would be limited in scope and a “show of force.”

Negotiations with extremist groups in Khyber are the latest in a series of peace talks and deals in the tribal agencies and the Northwest Frontier Province.

This year, the government signed peace deals in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, and Mohmand. Negotiations are under way in South Waziristan, Kohat, and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been inked.

Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, ordered peace negotiations and agreements to be suspended after the Khyber operation. But reversed his decision two days ago, just as his spokesman began negotiations with Haji Namdar.


Read in FDD’s Long War Journal