- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

A senior Pakistani general said yesterday that poor implementation of a 2006 peace agreement with tribal leaders near the Afghan border forced Pakistan to deploy nearly 100,000 troops to battle pro-Taliban militants in the region.

Gen. Ehsan ul-Haq, chairman of Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff until his retirement in October, said the September 2006 pact marked an attempt to win cooperation of Pashtun tribes in halting cross-border attacks on NATO troops, the Afghan army and civilians.

One year ago, skeptical Bush administration officials grudgingly accepted the deal when it was outlined during a Washington visit by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, while privately saying it would never work.

Gen. Ehsan yesterday blamed foreign fighters and Taliban sympathizers for using the truce not only to attack Afghanistan, but also to impose Taliban-style tactics in Pakistan, such as beheading people accused of being agents of the army or the Americans.

“The implementation [of the agreement] needed to be better monitored,” Gen. Ehsan told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “Very early, the violations should have been taken notice of [so that the extremists understood] that even the smallest violations would not be tolerated.”

In time it became clear that the strategy had to be changed, he said, “but we still didn’t want the onus of breaking the agreement to come on us. So the day [tribal leaders] said the agreement was broken, the army went in.”

The agreement collapsed in early July when police commandos stormed a radical mosque and girls’ seminary in Islamabad, killing at least 100 people.

Tribal leaders responded by scrapping the agreement. Since then, more than 700 civilians and soldiers have been killed in suicide attacks, roadside bombings and rocket attacks, while a full-blown insurgency has erupted in the rugged mountains of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

The fighting continued yesterday, with helicopter gunships battling pro-Taliban militants in northwest Pakistan’s scenic Swat Valley, killing as many as 70, the Associated Press reported.

The wire service also reported that opposition leader Benazir Bhutto flew to Dubai yesterday to spend time with family members, two weeks after suicide bombers attempted to kill her on her return to Pakistan after eight years in exile. At least 140 people died in the attack in Karachi.

The violence comes as Gen. Musharraf awaits a Supreme Court ruling to validate an Oct. 6 election in which he won a new 5-year term — a near unanimous vote by an electoral college in which opposition parties refused to participate.

Prior to his retirement, Gen. Ehsan oversaw three major military offensives in the northwest tribal areas of North and South Waziristan.

The decision to fight the militants remains unpopular with Pakistanis, nearly half of whom oppose the decision, according to a public opinion poll released yesterday by WorldPublicOpinion.org. The survey of more than 900 Pakistanis was taken prior to the Oct. 18 bombing of Mrs. Bhutto’s motorcade.

Gen. Ehsan said the army had no choice in sending troops into the northwest.

“We do consider extremism and terrorism to be the highest-priority threat to the security and well-being of Pakistan,” he said.

He rejected claims by critics that Pakistan is simply responding to pressure from the United States by cracking down on pro-Taliban militants.

“We are looking at it primarily as to what is in the best interests of Pakistan,” he said. It is critical for Pakistan to “get hold of its internal security environment.”

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