- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s strategy of making peace deals with local leaders on his country’s border with Afghanistan faces an uncertain future after a deadly air strike last week on a religious school in the area, analysts say.

The scheme “is in tatters, but there is no alternative,” Pakistani analyst Husain Haqqani said.

Gen. Musharraf adopted the strategy under pressure from army leaders who saw little hope of pacifying the lawless and inaccessible border regions by military force alone.

More than 80 people were killed in the Oct. 30 attack on a religious school or “madrassa,” all of them Islamist militants training for attacks, the Pakistani and U.S. governments said. Residents in the area said the victims were innocent teachers and students, some of them children.

The school lay in the tribal area of Bajaur. On the same day as the attack, local leaders were to have signed a peace deal with the government modeled on a pact negotiated in September with tribal elders in the restive area of North Waziristan.

One of the leaders who was to have signed the deal narrowly escaped death in the attack and the others withdrew. Retired Gen. Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, the architect of the deal, said he had not been notified in advance and was infuriated.

Gen. Orakzai, the governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, has threatened to resign in protest, said former Indian intelligence official B. Raman. Local reports said Gen. Musharraf was forced to schedule a meeting with senior army staff to allay their fears about the deal’s collapse.

Further doubts about the tribal strategy were raised by a weekend report in the newspaper Dawn saying a bomb plot against targets in the capital, Islamabad was staged from North Waziristan. The attacks were foiled when several artillery shells, wired to mobile-phone detonators, were found Oct. 5 within a mile of the parliament building and Gen. Musharraf’s residence.

Dawn quoted an unnamed senior investigator saying the attack had been approved by the Uzbek leader of a shadowy extremist splinter group, the Islamic Jihad Group.

The Uzbek, identified as Nadzhmiddin Kamilidinovich Janov, who also uses the aliases Yakhyo and Commander Ahmad, is based in Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Dawn said his group had broken away from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

The Islamic Jihad Group has been designated a terror group by the U.S. government, but little is known about it. The group took responsibility for several attacks in Uzbekistan in April 2004, but has not emerged since.

Eleven persons have been charged in the plot, and Dawn said interrogations had revealed the link to Yakhyo. “While the fingers were in Islamabad, the tail was in Mir Ali,” the anonymous investigator told the newspaper.

“If this report is true,” Mr. Haqqani said, “it would be a very serious breach of the agreement” signed between Pakistani authorities and local leaders in the agency on Sept. 5.

Under the agreement, the local leaders are supposed to expel any foreign militants who do not adopt “a peaceable life” and prevent cross-border attacks against NATO troops in Afghanistan.

But many analysts suspect the deal has simply established a safe haven for Taliban fighters who can cross freely into Afghanistan, and U.S. military officials say attacks in Afghanistan’s neighboring Khost province have increased since it was signed.

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