Pakistan's 'Gandhi' party takes on Taliban, Al Qaeda
The Awami National Party, which leads the ruling coalition in the crucial North West Frontier Province, espouses a nonviolent approach to tackling extremism.
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The White House was right to be worried, some experts agree. "The government is negotiating from a position of weakness," says Seth Jones, an analyst at RAND Corp., a security consultancy in Arlington, Va. "There should be no illusions – these [militant] groups are trying to strengthen their position."Skip to next paragraph
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Army 'capitulated' to militants
But others see another dynamic at work in the scrapped cease-fire, too.
"The military is out to save itself," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban," a book considered one of the most insightful looks into the group.
He suggests that the failed deal was not the fault of the new government, but of the Army, which wields great influence in FATA, because it is controlled federally. The deal was essentially a capitulation to militants, Mr. Rashid adds, because the Army wants to get out of an unpopular campaign.
The military denies this, saying it is not in any direct negotiations with the Taliban. "The government officials are negotiating with them through interlocutors," says Maj. Gen. Atthar Abbas, an Army spokesman.
Yet due to the peculiar rules governing FATA, the Army does have more of a voice there. In the North West Frontier Province, the only government negotiators are new lawmakers. In FATA, however, talks are being supervised by a governor appointed by President Musharraf, and the regional Army corps commander, in addition to federal lawmakers, says Rahim Dad Khan, a member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), an ANP ally.
ANP pushes for more accountability
The ANP, for its part, wants to bring more accountability to negotiations by putting all the facts before the people. Past negotiations under the military-led government were never made public, says Sen. Zahid Khan of the ANP. So when agreements inevitably fell apart amid accusations and counteraccusations, no one knew who was right.
"We'll make all the developments in the talks public so as the masses can judge who is backing out of his words," he says. "The party going against the agreement would have to take the ire of the masses."
In this way, negotiations can serve a strategic purpose. Defense analyst Ikram Sehgal says there are many natural points of disagreement between Pashtun tribals and foreign terrorists, such as the tactic of suicide bombing.
"Terrorist ideology is completely anathema to tribal ideology," he says. "The whole idea is to drive a wedge between the tribals and the terrorists."
Yet Rashid and others say that to ultimately succeed, the government must have a policy beyond just talks – or bullets, for that matter. The government of North West Frontier Province has drawn a $4 billion development plan designed to spread the authority of the government through new counsels and government positions. But it must address the root causes of the tribal belt's problems – the economic backwardness and political isolation that have made the area a haven for militants, analysts add.
"They have to offer some strategic vision," says Rashid. "[The terrorists] want sharia. What are you offering?"