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Taliban militants in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan, have ended a peace agreement with the Pakistani government. This development jeopardizes the military's plan to isolate and target the Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, a neighboring tribal district.
A shura, or council, on Monday decided to call off the agreement – brokered with Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur in February 2008 – because the government has failed to meet the Taliban's demands that the Pakistani Army withdraw from the region and the government put an end to US-sanctioned drone attacks, reports the BBC. A Taliban spokesman added that militants would now "carry out attacks on military targets in the region until the army left and US drones strikes were halted."
The agreement with Mr. Bahadur was meant to divide Taliban forces in the area. The Pakistani Army is waging an offensive against Mr. Mehsud in South Waziristan, and, under the agreement, Bahadur would not join Mehsud in battling Pakistani forces.
The termination of the peace agreement comes a day after militants ambushed an Army convoy, leaving 23 soldiers dead and 35 wounded, reports The Times of London.
The Washington Post reports that the failure of the peace agreement in North Waziristan is a blow to the government because the military had expected to funnel supplies through the region to support the offensive against Mehsud. It also means that militants in North Waziristan will no longer sit on the sidelines while Pakistan is busy battling Mehsud in the neighboring province.
The Taliban assault on an army convoy passing through the village of Inzar Kas was one of the deadliest incidents for the military during its two-month-old offensive against the insurgents. But to some analysts, it also served as a warning of a bigger threat -- the possibility that disparate Taliban factions might be closing ranks to battle the army in Pakistan.
Writing in The News, a leading Pakistani daily, security analyst Rahimullah Yusufzai points out that opening a new front in North Waziristan would overextend the military. But he adds that the military has no choice but to respond to the recent activities of North Waziristan-based militants.
Opening a new front when the armed forces are fighting on a number of fronts including Swat, Buner, Dir Lower, Bajaur, Mohmand, Darra Adamkhel, Orakzai and South Waziristan would over-stretch the military and mix-up its priorities. But the military cannot ignore the deadly ambush on the 250-member convoy in which a significant number of soldiers were killed and injured [on Sunday]. A senior government official said such attacks could demoralise the troops if punitive measures aren't undertaken.
Yusufzai adds that the North Waziristan peace agreement has been in danger of collapsing for some time now, as militants have attacked military convoy and personnel several times in recent weeks.
Previously, there had been concerns that delays in the launch of a full-scale offensive against Mehsud would give him time to garner support from other militant groups, reported the Daily Times, an English-language Pakistani daily.
According to an analysis in The Long War Journal, the Pakistan military will face a sizable force if Mehsud teams up with militant commanders in neighboring tribal areas, including North Waziristan.
[Tribal leaders Maulvi] Nazir, Bahadar, and the Haqqanis each host their share of training camps and safe houses for al Qaeda and allied terror movements. The groups also conduct cross-border attacks against Coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan....
A failure to tackle these commanders also leaves the military exposed to a potential counterattack. Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and Nazir are estimated to have more than 50,000 forces combined. If they decide to honor their agreement with Baitullah under the United Mujahideen Council, these forces could join the estimated 30,000 under Baitullah's command, and slug it out with the Pakistani Army in rugged, mountainous terrain that is well suited to favor the defenders.