What the execution of 15 kidnapped Pakistani soldiers means

In an apparent surprise to the Pakistan military, insurgents executed 15 soldiers who had been recently kidnapped – a blow to talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban.

Islamist militants killed 15 captive soldiers Thursday in an attack, dealing a blow for tentative peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani Frontier Constabulary forces, based in North Waziristan, were captured on Dec. 23 and executed in retaliation for the recent death of one of their commanders, according to a Taliban spokesman. Tribesmen found the bodies Thursday morning, as officials expressed surprise that negotiations had gone awry.

 “We had been trying to get them freed and we maintained contacts with their captors. Until last night, the indications were positive. God knows what happened afterwards,” an official told Dawn, a leading English daily.

The executions come at a time when reports suggest that the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of jihadist organizations formed in 2007 to fight both America and the Pakistan Army, is apparently redirecting its efforts toward fighting only NATO forces in Afghanistan at the behest of the Afghan Taliban’s leader Mullah Omar.

Ahmed Rashid, author of “Descent into Chaos,” says this deal may be linked to upcoming Afghanistan peace talks in Doha, Qatar, where Pakistan wishes to reassert itself by using militants to increase pressure on NATO forces. “Before [Pakistan] allows Mullah Omar to go there, we wanted to extract something from them,” he says.

 He adds that a partial reconciliation between Pakistan and the Pakistani Taliban has been made possible by worsening US-Pakistan ties, which has enabled the Pakistani military to convince some militants that they are no longer enemies.

On Monday, representatives of major factions, including those led by Hakimullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman, the Haqqani group, Maulvi Gul Bahadar, and the Mulla Nazir group in South Waziristan, had agreed to set aside their differences in order to ramp up their fight against the NATO forces.

 The truces have coincided with a marked decline in suicide bomb attacks in Pakistan. According to a new report by the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), casualties in violent incidents went down from 10,003 in 2010 to 7,107 in 2011, a decrease of 29 percent. 

Thursday’s killings and other attacks, however, suggest that not all Taliban factions are on board. Still, attempts by Pakistan to redirect its militant violence toward NATO could deepen the diplomatic crisis between the two countries, says Rashid.

“If this becomes a done deal, what reaction can we expect from America? We’ve made it public that we support fighting in one place and not another place,” he says. 

Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace, adds that while violence is down in the short term, Pakistan’s policy of “toying with militants for our use, then dumping them down the line” is unlikely to yield positive long-term results.

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