Peace deals between Islamic militants and Pakistan's government have created a virtual Taliban mini-state near Afghanistan, giving militants a "free hand" to recruit, train and arm for cross-border attacks, a think tank reported Monday.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) accused Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's government of resorting to "appeasement" of pro-Taliban fighters after poorly planned military operations in North and South Waziristan failed and only fueled more militancy.
The government denied the allegation, but a U.S. military official in Afghanistan confirmed that cross-border attacks had surged this summer and fall, amid the bloodiest violence since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001 for hosting al Qaeda.
CBS News reporter Farhan Bokhari
says the report also urges the U.S. government to press Musharraf to take tougher action against the militants on his side of the border.
The report, titled "Pakistan's tribal areas: Appeasing the militants", comes at a crucial time for General Musharraf, as he continues efforts to reconcile views of his country’s harshly anti-U.S. Islamic extremists and more moderate politicians that he claims to support, Bokhari says.
Western diplomats have warned that the mounting Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan is chipping away at Musharraf's credentials with the U.S. and its other allies.
“Many people now ask themselves if Musharraf can really be what he claims — a bulwark against Islamic extremists,” one senior European diplomat in Islamabad told CBS News
, on the condition that he would not be named.
"Because that (situation in Afghanistan) has slipped so rapidly this year, there are increasing doubts about Pakistan's support," he added.
CBS NEWS Consultant Jere Van Dyk
, who is based in Afghanistan, says, "The attacks are getting worse... President Ahmad Karzai (of Afghanistan)... is so distraught that he actually cried, talking about the bombings."
Among its recommendations, the ICG says the Bush administration should press General Musharraf's government to publish monthly figures, put out by NATO, of cross-border incursions from the Pakistani side, Bokhari says.
Close to 4,000 people, mostly militants, have been killed in Afghanistan this year, threatening the Western-backed project to reconstruct Afghanistan and build a democracy.
"Using the region to regroup, reorganize and rearm, they (Taliban and foreign militants) are launching increasingly severe cross-border attacks on Afghan and international military personnel, with the support and active involvement of Pakistani militants," the Brussels-based think tank said in a report.
The ICG report said Pakistan's army had "virtually retreated to the barracks" in North Waziristan, giving pro-Taliban elements "a free hand to recruit train and arm," which also posed a serious threat to Pakistan's own security.
Government policy had allowed militants "to establish a virtual mini-Taliban-style state," it said, citing reports of pro-Taliban militants attacking music, video and CD stores, closing barber shops, imposing taxes and establishing courts to impose summary justice.
The group called on the government to expand the rule of law in Pakistan's tribal regions and extend civil and political rights to counteract extremism and militancy.
Arbab Mohammed Arif Khan, secretary for law and order in Pakistan's tribal regions, denied the Taliban were launching attacks or running a "parallel administration" in North Waziristan, and described the September peace agreement — inked after a June cease-fire — as an "important breakthrough."
"There are no camps or centers where terrorists are being trained in the tribal areas," he told reporters in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
A senior tribal elder in North Waziristan said it was unclear if more foreign militants had gravitated toward the region since the deal, but confirmed to The Associated Press that pro-Taliban elements had gained stature, undermining traditional tribal leaders.
In a sign of growing Taliban influence, tribesmen were approaching their leaders in the towns of Miran Shah and Mir Ali to settle land and money disputes, and pro-Taliban religious students were helping to direct the traffic, said the elder, who requested anonymity because he had been threatened by militants for meeting government leaders.
Pakistan is a key U.S. anti-terror ally and has nabbed about 700 al Qaeda suspects over the past five years. It says its army, which has lost hundreds of men fighting Islamic militants, still patrols the Afghan border and does all it can to stop militant infiltration.
However, since the peace deal, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick said U.S. and Afghan security posts along the eastern border with Pakistan had seen a spike in attacks from 17 in May, to 50 in August and 57 in October — a more than threefold increase. Most of the attacks were in Paktika province, which lies opposite North and South Waziristan.
Attacks leveled off to about one a day in November, possibly because of the winter weather settling in, Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said the data were not conclusive but that the increase could have been influenced by the North Waziristan peace deal or by U.S. military operations forcing more militants to operate close to the Pakistan border.