Pakistan army has failed to rein in radicals in the country's restive tribal belt and Islamic clerics throughout the region continue to give 'jehadi' sermons asking people to live by the Islamic Sharia.
In Wana, the capital of the South Waziristan tribal agency, extremists recently used dynamite to blow up a radio station for playing music. If these radicals sound like Pakistan's equivalent of Mullah Mohammed Omar's ousted Taliban regime, the Newsweek magazine says in a report, they are.
The tribal militants call themselves 'Pakistani Taliban,' or members of a newly-coined and loosely knit entity, the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. They openly recruit young men to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and run their own Islamic courts that, on occasion, stage public executions.
The police, the report says, simply stay out of the way. 'Fearing for their lives, no one dares to challenge them,' Newsweek quotes Afrasiab Khattak, former chairman of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, as saying.
The Pakistani Army has had some success. It killed 180 foreign fighters and captured some 300 foreign-born militants, including Qaeda operatives, in periodic fighting, military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan told the magazine. He says some 370 local militants have also been killed. But the Pakistani Army has also paid a high price, losing 350 of its troops.
"There has been some success in hunting down al Qaeda," says retired Pakistani Army Lt Gen Talat Masood, adding: "However, there has only been failure in terms of controlling the local Taliban."
Not only are the Pakistani militants now stronger than ever, the links between the pro-Taliban, ethnic Pashtun tribes in Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban across the border, who are also Pashtuns, have been strengthened, Newsweek says, adding that the resurgence of the Afghan Taliban, who last week briefly captured two district towns in southern Afghanistan, has only increased the morale and muscle of their Pakistani brethren.
"What was a containable problem has spun out of control," Ayaz Amir, a political columnist is quoted as saying.
The invigorated Pakistani militants, it says, have boosted their recruiting of Afghan and local youths studying in madrassas along the mountainous border, and are sending them into Afghanistan to fight. "There is now greater cross-border traffic between Waziristan and Afghanistan than before the Army moved in," adds Amir. And both Waziristan and the border areas of neighboring Baluchistan have become even more hospitable rear bases and haven for Taliban commanders and fighters.
Before the military moved into the tribal areas, the report says, the militants had been sympathetic with, but not actively committed to, the Afghan Taliban's cause. Now that has changed. "The military's presence has brought no plus for the tribals," General Masood is quoted as saying. "It has made them angrier, dissatisfied, anti-government and actively pro-Taliban."
The Pakistani neo-Taliban force has fought aggressively, Newsweek says, adding that nowadays, no Army convoy can move through Waziristan without an escort of helicopter gunships.
But President Pervez Musharraf, Newsweek says, seems to be in a bind. He has already tried military force, and there are political considerations besides. He does not want to alienate country's pro-Taliban and pro-militant religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, which he may need in next year's parliamentary elections.
To that end, the report says the government employed MMA leader Fazlur Rehman to negotiate a month-long ceasefire with the militants, which expires at the end of this month. To formalize a peace deal with the militants, the government has organized a 45-man Loya Jirga, or tribal council, consisting of tribal notables, including several MMA leaders, that began meeting in Miramshah last week.
As a price for peace, Newsweek says, the militants are demanding that the government release more than 60 jailed extremist leaders and that the Army dismantle its checkpoints in Waziristan. In a sign of goodwill last week the government dismantled two checkpoints on key regional highways and released 34 militant leaders, it added. Most Pakistanis, the report notes, are skeptical of the proposed peace deal. In the past, similar arrangements broke down because the militants simply failed to honor them.