July 9, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistan signs peace agreement with extremists in Khyber

Just 10 days after the Pakistani government launched an offensive against extremist groups threatening Peshawar, the government signed a peace accord with the Lashkar-e-Islam, one of the purported targets of the operation. The peace agreement comes the same day that five members of the Frontier Corps were killed and three were wounded in an attack in Khyber.

The agreement, according to Geo TV states Lashkar-e-Islam would recognize the writ of the Pakistani government. “All religious groups would remain peaceful and the display of weapons in the region's main town of Bara would be banned,” Geo TV reported. “A 13-member peace committee of tribal elders and Khyber administration officials has been formed to ensure the implementation of the pact which was signed in Peshawar.” The peace jirga “mostly comprises activists and sympathizers of Lashkar-i-Islam,” Dawn reported on July 7.

Prior to the peace talks, the government demanded that Lashkar-e-Islam surrender its weapons and recognize the government's rule in the tribal areas. The Lashkar-e-Islam has not agreed to surrender its weapons.

The government initiated peace talks over the weekend with Mangal Bagh, the leader of the Lashkar-e-Islam, and the military put the operation on hold and lifted a curfew in the town of Bara. Bagh refused to put up cash or other forms of collateral to ensure he would end attacks. He also refused to hand over 60 members of the Lashkar-e-Islam. The government agreed to release all of those detained during the operation. Ninety-three people were detained, according to Dawn but only 11 were members of Lashkar-e-Islam.

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. The three extremist groups were banned by the Pakistani government. Bagh ordered his forces not to resist at the onset of operation, but threatened to attack if operations against his supporters continued.

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. Government officials stated at the onset of the operation that the offensive would be limited in scope and was a “show of force.”

The agreement with the Lashkar-e-Islam in Khyber is the latest in a series of peace talks and deals with the Taliban and allied extremist groups operating 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 Baitullah reversed his decision late last week, just as his spokesman began negotiations with Haji Namdar.