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Pakistan's tenuous gains on Taliban

Past cease-fires have allowed militants to regroup, but a recent deal in Bajaur may be more durable.

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"Some sort of negotiations [are needed] because you cannot overrun and bulldoze everything there," says military spokesman Maj. Gen. AtharAbbas. "It has to be a political agreement with the tribes. Peace in this area means that the tribal council has given a guarantee that they are responsible for any violation."

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However, Professor Hussain questions whether tribal forces, or even the Frontier Corps,have the training and equipment to resist the Taliban.

Lashkarshave been out gunned before, so much so that the government has grown"very wary" of trumpeting them, says Rahimullah Yusufzai, editor of theNews in Peshawar. A suicide attack on local tribal elders in Swat dealta serious blow to the lashkar idea there.

The Bajaur refugees disparage the lashkars, too. "Those who joined the lashkars added to the problem. It brought more retaliation," says Mr. Khan, the Bajauri shopkeeper in Peshawar.

What's needed is the introduction of a proper police force into the tribal areas, says Ms. Fair with RAND, adding that neither the lashkars nor the Frontier Corps are up to this task. "It's always police that win insurgencies," she says.

The19th century arrangement that keeps professional police out of the tribal areas doesn't fit the 21st reality of the region, Fair continues.

Over the decades, the lack of integration with Pakistan stunted developmentand security, now set back further by the Taliban and the military counterinsurgency.

"Why should we go back? There are curfews. There are no supplies. The bazaars have been destroyed. Thereis nothing for us there," says Zarshad Khan a young shopkeeper.

Otherrefugees recall feelings of terror after the Taliban arrived. "They entered our house one day to conduct a search. They threw around the women's clothing," says Pasmara, an elderly woman who came to the camp four months ago.

One man who did stay in Bajaur says there has been "some drop in violence," and military patrols are visible in some areas. But "the Taliban hold Charmang. All schools are closed, all [tribal] police stations are closed," says Akbar Khan,reached by phone.

Those who fled also paid a high price,with the arduous trek through the mountains being too much for many.The very old were left behind. Some estimates of refugees from the Bajaur conflict run as high as in the hundreds of thousands.

More doubt over Swat deal

The exodus made it much easier for the military to make gains against the Taliban in Bajaur as opposed to densely populated Swat, although some200,000 residents fled from there as well.

In that onetime popular tourist spot, some 3,000 Taliban had held off 12,000troops for months and controlled 70 percent of the area. In late February, in a deal arranged by hard-line cleric Maulana Sufi Mohammad and the provincial government, the military agreed to stop fighting –as well as to impose Islamic law and release several Taliban prisoners– if militants stopped displaying their weapons in public.

"The military operation was causing a lot of death and destruction" in Swat,says military spokesman Abbas. "It was decided to opt for another option [there]."

The Swat deal represents something "very different from the others in years past," says Hussain. It involves not just the military and the insurgents, but also the provincial ruling party and a local power broker.

Though he remains"deeply skeptical" about the cease-fire's ability to stick, he says"the Swat peace deal will be a litmus test of this framework" of dialogue.

Though Pakistan was criticized for the deal in Swat, dialogue with militants still has currency among regional and American officials. President Obama signaled in an interview with the New York Times Sunday that the US was open to negotiating with the Taliban across the border in Afghanistan.