Saturday, October 28, 2006

Musharraf Pardons Mullah Omar

The Australian - PAKISTAN'S controversial deal with tribal militants in North Waziristan - touted as the blueprint for a peace accord with insurgents in Afghanistan - was authorised by Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

The confirmation, disclosed last night, of the direct involvement of Mullah Omar and his senior supporters in the secret September 5 Waziristan accord suggests it could be used as the basis for an agreement to coax the Taliban back into the Government in Kabul.

Originally thought to be simply a regional deal concerning the remote and hostile frontier terrain in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden and senior al-Qa'ida leaders are believed to be living, it has now emerged it involved Taliban leaders who were on a "most wanted" list of insurgent combatants in Afghanistan.

According to last night's reports, all were subsequently pardoned by the Pakistani authorities and now live openly in North Waziristan.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says he has been given the go-ahead by commanders of the NATO coalition to create a similar accord with the Taliban across a broader front.

Mullah Omar's role reveals an important advance in peace negotiations. Not seen in public since the fall of Kabul to the Tajik-led Northern Alliance forces, he retains absolute power within the Taliban.

Reports last week claimed he is living at an address in the Baluchistan capital of Quetta in Pakistan, but these have not been confirmed. Closely allied to al-Qa'ida, he is believed to be in regular contact with bin Laden and deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

General Musharraf insists the North Waziristan accord is a crucial step towards resolving the conflict in Afghanistan.

But reports last night suggested the deal had led to far more militancy on the part of the Taliban in the region.

Witnesses were reported as saying that two Taliban offices were operating openly in Miramshah, the town that serves as the capital of North Waziristan.

Despite a key demand in the agreement that militants cease infiltration into Afghanistan from North Waziristan, NATO commanders say infiltration has risen 300 per cent since the signing of the accord.

The beheading of suspected anti-Taliban spies has continued in recent weeks, despite a stipulation in the arrangement that all such killings should stop.

In Afghanistan, Taliban fighers also show no sign of easing the campaign to reclaim power.

The Taliban's military commander, Mullah Dadullah, has been filmed personally executing eight men accused of spying for the "Christian and crusader" coalition forces.

Clips released to a Pakistani television station, apparently provided by Mullah Dadullah, show the alleged spies being decapitated and their heads being placed on their torsos.

The footage also shows suicide bomb volunteers receiving "tickets to heaven" from Mullah Dadullah, and a clerk nearby casually registering their names in what appears to be a ledger.

The clips include photograghs of suicide bombers extolling their their missions in Afghanistan and suggesting that suicide bombing is increasing.

But none of this will deflate General Musharraf's confidence in parlaying the North Waziristan arrangement into Afghanistan peace talks.

It seems he is heartened by what he sees as relative peace in the region, with militants no longer attacking his forces in North Waziristan, which have mainly withdrawn to their barracks and no longer launch attacks on the insurgents.

"Peace is the desired goal," said one New Delhi analyst.

"But one look at the agreement and the situation on the ground and it is glaringly evident that the (Pakistani) Government has chosen the path of pacification by appearing to capitulate to the militants rather than by taking corrective measures to ensure lasting peace."

Meanwhile, it was disclosed last night that Pakistani security authorities have arrested eight al-Qa'ida suspects for involvement in what appears to have been an attempt to kill General Musharraf last week and overthrow his military-led regime.

"The arrests have been made by intelligence agencies by tracing the mobile phone calls they made to activate detonators," announced Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.