Pakistan's Separate Peace

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

SECRETARY OF Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld didn't say who he was thinking of when he warned in a controversial speech last month about people who think that "countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists." In fact the most obvious candidate is that enduring favorite of the Bush administration, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Musharraf, whose country has been the main base for leaders of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban since 2002, last week concluded a peace deal with tribal leaders in North Waziristan, a territory near the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani strongman agreed to withdraw his army from the area and release prisoners in exchange for promises by militants not to attack the Pakistani army or set up a parallel government.

The Pakistani tribesmen also promised to stop cross-border attacks into Afghanistan and to disarm the many foreign terrorists in their midst -- but few analysts expect them to follow through on those pledges. Instead, both North and South Waziristan -- where a similar truce was agreed on earlier -- are likely to become territories where members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban operate without fear of challenge.

Why would Mr. Musharraf strike this deal? The simple answer is that his army was defeated in its attempt to eliminate the al-Qaeda sanctuary by force; since launching the campaign in 2003, it had suffered more than 500 killed. Mr. Musharraf, who tried to dress up his maneuver by visiting Afghanistan the next day, said he was worried about a full-scale uprising in the area. Though he didn't say so, the general is surely hoping that the truce will add to his personal security: He has survived at least two assassination attempts by al-Qaeda.

The cost of his decision will be borne by American and NATO troops in Afghanistan, whose commanders already say that the ability of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters to retreat to Pakistan greatly complicates the challenge of defeating their escalating attacks. So why did Vice President Cheney call Mr. Musharraf "a great ally" just days after his separate peace? Administration officials seem more willing to forgive their autocratic friend than they are domestic critics of the war on terrorism.

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