Taliban militancy could engulf Pakistan, Musharraf is warned
By Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan
Published: July 1, 2007
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, was warned this month that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the country's lawless tribal areas and that without "swift and decisive action," the growing militancy could engulf the rest of the country.
The warning came in a document from the Interior Ministry, which said Pakistan's security forces in North-west Frontier Province abutting the tribal areas were outgunned and outnumbered and had forfeited authority to the Taliban and their allies.
"The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan," said the 15-page document, which was shown to The New York Times. "There is a general policy of appeasement toward the Taliban, which has further emboldened them."
The document was discussed by Pakistan's National Security Council on June 4 while Musharraf was present, the document notes. It appears to be the first such report to emerge from the Pakistani government formally recognizing the seriousness of the spreading threat here from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to a Western diplomat.
The diplomat, who was not authorized to speak for attribution, called the document "an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country's heart."
"It's tragic it's taken so long to recognize it," the diplomat said.
Indeed, the recognition of the scope of the extremists' authority comes after heavy pressure on Pakistan from the United States to contain the lawlessness in the tribal areas. Washington has poured some $1 billion a year into Pakistan in the last five years for what are described as reimbursements for Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan.
The prime purpose of the sizable financial support has been to stop the area from becoming a haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda as they wage their insurgency in Afghanistan.
But now the Interior Ministry is telling Musharraf that the influence of the extremists is swiftly bleeding east and deeper into his own country, threatening areas like Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat, which were considered to be safeguarded by Pakistani government forces.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, the prime mover behind the document, narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack in April by extremists in his home area of Charsadda, 18 miles, or 30 kilometers, northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier province.
The attack on Sherpao apparently shook his confidence in Musharraf's policy toward the militants, which has included a series of peace deals.
Since the peace accords have been signed, the militants have filled a vacuum left by tribal leaders, who have taken a back seat, and by the military, which has retreated to its barracks, the president's critics say. The policy has been questioned by the United States and by some of Musharraf's own officers.
"It's a policy of appeasement," said Brigadeer Mahmood Shah, who was the senior Pakistani government official in charge of security in the tribal areas until last year. "It hasn't worked. The Talibanization has increased in the past year."