Pakistan seeks peace deal with militant tribe
The release of Maulana Sufi Muhammad in Islamabad on Monday suggests a shift in relations between the new government and militants.
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Sufi Muhammad rose to prominence in the mid 90s during Benazir Bhutto's regime, Asia Times Online writes. His group agitated for a strict interpretation of Islamic law and eventually forced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to declare Islamic laws for the picturesque Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.Skip to next paragraph
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After September 11, 2001, Sufi gathered approximately 10,000 untrained armed men to fight against the US invasion of Afghanistan, despite Taliban leader Mullah Omar's opposition. Most of them were either killed or arrested by the Americans or kidnapped by local warlords for ransom. Sufi managed to escape unhurt from Afghanistan, only to be arrested at the border and jailed in Pakistan.
In his absence, the TNSM regrouped under Maulana Muhammad Alam and was allowed to operate with the tacit consent of the ISI [the Pakistani Intelligence Agency]. But Sufi's son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah, who had become radicalized after meeting al-Qaeda deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, wanted to take the group in a different direction.
Fazlullah remains at large, running his own renegade version of TNSM that is aligned to Al Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. He has established his own popular radio station, dubbed "Mullah radio," which delivers fiery antigovernment speeches, and he has ignored pleas from the ISI and Sufi Muhammad to moderate his tone. While he insists that Sufi Muhammad's release will not affect the Swat Valley insurgency, it is unclear what relationship his section of TNSM will have to Sufi Muhammad's.
...[B]ecause of his high profile, [a former State Department official] said, his release is a significant development that is sure not to sit well with the United States – a key ally that funnels billions of dollars to Pakistan to fight terrorists along the Afghan border.
Washington would prefer to pursue a more hard-line policy against the insurgents, The New York Times says, by increasing American military incursions along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border – something Islamabad is keen to avoid in order to ensure the success of negotiations and maintain the popularity of its young government.
American commanders in Afghanistan have in recent months urged a widening of the war that could include American attacks on indigenous Pakistani militants in the tribal areas inside Pakistan, according to United States officials.
The requests have been rebuffed for now, the officials said, after deliberations in Washington among senior Bush administration officials who fear that attacking Pakistani radicals may anger Pakistan's new government, which is negotiating with the militants, and destabilize an already fragile security situation.