Pakistan has accepted short-term defeat and risked the wrath of its US allies for long-term strategic gains by giving in to militant tribesmen backing al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, an analyst said yesterday.
"It is a tactical retreat," retired army general Talat Masood said of the amnesty granted to five hardcore tribal fighters who have been supporting up to 600 mainly Chechen and Uzbek fighters linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"The Pakistani authorities did not want military confrontation because they would not be achieving their political objectives: to open up the tribal areas, make it more transparent and establish the writ of the state," he said.
"For that you need the cooperation of the tribes there, and you also want continuous access so that it doesn't turn again into a sanctuary for terrorists or narcotics peddlars," he said.
The amnesties were granted by Pakistan's military in an elaborate ceremony in a remote village in Pakistan's semi-autonomous northwest tribal region on the border with Afghanistan on Saturday.
The tribesmen, led by Nek Mohammad, a former Taliban commander from a hardcore Pashtun subtribe, had been the target of army offensives including a disastrous 12-day operation last month. They have topped a government wanted list since January.
Many of the foreign fighters they have been sheltering are believed to have been slipping across the border to kill US and Afghan targets in Afghanistan over the past year.
Under the agreement between the rebel tribesmen and Pakistani authorities, they will be allowed to stay in the region if they sign pledges to lay down their arms and cease armed activities.
Masood said that bringing the tribesmen on side was critical to redressing what has been the Pakistani army's Achilles' heel: lack of human intelligence.
"The most important thing is establishing human intelligence," he said. "The objective is to ... ensure that the tribes are unable to indulge in activities against the interests of the state and to bring them closer to mainstream politics, integrate them with the rest of the country."
US forces in Afghanistan, who have been trying to seal the border against militants infiltrating from Pakistani sanctuaries to attack aid workers, troops and government targets, are "livid" at the deal, according to Western diplomats.
"These Chechens and Uzbeks are not innocent farmers left over from the mujahidin wars [against Afghanistan's Soviet occupiers in the 1980s] who've got stranded in the region and married local girls," an Islamabad-based diplomat said.
"They've been running over the border killing people. Nek Mohammad and his men have been supplying them arms, giving them sanctuary. Nek Mohammad is probably indirectly responsible for hundreds of deaths in Afghanistan," the diplomat said.
Masood said the US military was likely to be "uncertain" about the deal.
"Because they would not know as to how it would ultimately figure out, but from a Pakistani perspective I think it has been a good agreement," he said.
Pakistani forces had probably learnt from the failures of the US military's "guns blazing" approach in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I think they would have been inspired by the US approach to the operation in both Afghanistan and Iraq," Masood said. "I think they are trying to now use the political instrument for achieving their goals rather than using the military as the centerpiece."