|Forces, militants heading for truce|
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PESHAWAR - Government security forces and militants are heading for a tenuous ceasefire in the Waziristan tribal area, credible sources told Dawn on Thursday.
These sources said that militants had agreed last week to hold fire in the South Waziristan but it had not yet been extended to the neighbouring North Waziristan.
“I think the militants want to keep one pot boiling”, remarked one source.
Fragile peace deals had also been signed with militants in South Waziristan in April 2004 and February 2005.
Tribal sources confirmed the existence of back-channel contacts between the government and militants, but said that any agreement between the two sides was still stymied by a lack of trust.
It was against this background, the sources said, that Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani issued a circular on Wednesday informing militants that while the ‘jihad’ against the United States and the Karzai government would continue “till the last drop of blood”, fighting Pakistan did not conform with the Taliban policy.
“It is not our policy. Those who agree with us are our friends and those who do not agree and (continue to wage) an undeclared war against Pakistan are neither our friends nor shall we allow them in our ranks,” the letter issued from the office of Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani said.
Jalaluddin Haqqani is a veteran mujahideen commander who had later aligned himself with the Taliban and remained a key commander and later held a cabinet post in the Taliban regime until it collapsed in 2001.
Belonging to the Zadran tribe, Maulvi Haqqani continues to lead the fight against the US and allied forces in Khost and Paktia in Afghanistan and carries a bounty on his head. He evaded capture despite several raids by Pakistani security forces on his house and seminary in Miramshah in North Waziristan.
The elder Haqqani, because of his old age, is said to have ‘abdicated’ much of the legwork and field planning to his thirty-something son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has considerable influence over militants in South and North Waziristan tribal areas.
The sources said that Siraj Haqqani, an Afghan by nationality, is the overall commander of militants in Waziristan tribal regions and could play a decisive role in effecting a possible ceasefire.
There are 25 militant groups operating in South and North Waziristan with a total fighting force of roughly 4,000, tribal sources said.
The sources said that the Taliban seemed to be trying to wriggle out of what they perceived was a waste of time, energy and resources in Pakistan and focus instead on what they believed was real jihad in Afghanistan.
But as one source pointed out the Haqqanis had been smart enough to circulate the message in South Waziristan only and not in North Waziristan.
“They are probably keeping their options open and trying to exert pressure on the government to give in to their demands,” he said.
A key demand has been the release of militants captured during military operations.
Tribal sources said that while most of the militant groups in South Waziristan had agreed to hold fire, a couple of others who were pressing for the release of their men were sticking to their guns.
A militant commander told Dawn that groups opposed to the ceasefire were behind incidents of violence in recent weeks but hoped that they too would fall in line.
In North Waziristan, the Taliban shura met twice to discuss the proposition but despite having made some positive statements fell short of announcing a similar ceasefire.
Sources said that in line with their new strategy, the Taliban have made key changes in their hierarchy in Waziristan.
They said a senior Taliban figure visited the region and in consultation with militant groups nominated Maulavi Nazir Ahmad as the head of the militants from the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe.
Baitullah Mehsud has been chosen to continue to be the head of militants from Mehsud tribe, with wanted militant Abdullah Mehsud as the head of the mujahideen shura that comprises three members each from the two groups in addition to three members from a conglomerate of two other groups.
In the North Waziristan, Sirajuddin Haqqani will continue to head militants waging “Jihad’ across the border.
But sceptics say that such a ceasefire, if reached, wouldn’t last long.