Militants Break Deal with Pakistani Government
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
In Pakistan, the government is working to salvage a controversial peace agreement with tribal leaders in the volatile area along the border with Afghanistan. The region is home to Taliban fighters as well as an increasingly strong al-Qaida presence.
Yesterday, fighters loyal to the Taliban said the peace deal was dead and vowed a full-fledged war against the Pakistani government.
Reporter Sharmeen Obaid works for Channel 4 in the U.K. and she's in Karachi. She's traveled extensively in the tribal areas we're talking about and she joins us now.
Sharmeen, what can you tell us about these talks to save the peace deal, and do you think they have any chance at all to succeed?
Ms. SHARMEEN OBAID (Journalist, British TV Station Channel 4): Michele, how can you save a peace deal that's been broken by the militants? Obviously, the militants do not want to negotiate with the government of Pakistan. They've made it very clear that the government is the enemy, that the Pakistan army is the enemy. And over the weekend, the attacks that have escalated against the army are a clear indication that the militants are in no mood to talk.
NORRIS: But they were in the mood to talk not long ago. Why did the deal fall apart?
Ms. OBAID: I think the deal fell apart for many reasons. Primarily, the Red Mosque standoff that took place in Islamabad last week was a major indicator that things were not going so well between the government and the militants. The militants feel that the government had betrayed them. That they've sent the army into the positions that the army withdrew from in the northwest frontier province. Last year, according to the peace deal, the Pakistan Army agreed to withdraw that position from the front force that they had in the tribal belt. But last week, the president sent in the army into those very same areas again, clearly endangering the peace deal.
NORRIS: And officials there in Pakistan have suggested that the radical clerics behind this mosque standoff had direct connections with militants throughout these tribal areas. Is that proved to be true?
Ms. OBAID: It hasn't proved to be true yet, but there are indications that that is the case. I mean, to fund what the militants were doing at the Red Mosque and to have such a strong stance means that the militants had some sort of backing, had resources available to them to challenge the army. Where did those resources come from? Who is funding them? Clearly, these are questions that have been left unanswered, but they do show that the militants in the tribal belt, obviously, seek to gain the most out of something where there's a standoff between the military and the militants because it makes the militants seem more powerful in some sense, that they can take on the army, the public perception that they are strong.
And the very fact that in the last 24 hours, government officials and their families have fled the tribal belt in numbers as well as the local residents. Thousands are reported to be fleeing the tribal belt of Pakistan. It's an indication that obviously the Taliban militants are gaining a foothold and are making an impact.
NORRIS: So if people are fleeing, where are they fleeing to? And as they are leaving, who's actually in charge in that area?
Ms. OBAID: Well, in some parts of the - and especially in the North Waziristan area, women and children have been reported - I was speaking to a colleague who is in the area, was telling me that people are leaving right now. It's because there's complete lawlessness. The peace deal has fallen. They do not think that the army will be able to control this area. And the Taliban are going around closing down women's schools, closing down video shops, anything that is any semblance of life is being eradicated by the Taliban. And so people are leaving because they know that the army is going to retaliate in some way.
In the last 24 hours, the Pakistan government has called a loyal jirga. Got 130 tribal elders together to patrol and to keep law and order in that area. So there seems to be a shift in the government policy. They're now trying to use local tribal elders to patrol and police their own areas as a counter to the Taliban.
NORRIS: So Sharmeen, what, if anything, will it take to bring them back to the negotiating table?
Ms. OBAID: Well, certainly, America thinks that the $750 million that is bestowing to the people of Pakistan in the tribal belt will help them waver, in some way, their resort to militancy. My biggest question to the Americans is, how is this money going to be used when the Pakistan government doesn't even have any authority in these areas. There's a real danger that this money is going to fall into the wrong hands. What kind of game plan does U.S. CID and the U.S. government have for this money. It's a huge amount of money and if it falls in the wrong hands, it could have serious repercussions.
NORRIS: Sharmeen Obaid, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Ms. OBAID: Thank you.
NORRIS: That was reporter Sharmeen Obaid. She works for Channel 4 in the U.K. She spoke to us from Karachi, Pakistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.