Recent reports, of Al Qaeda and Taliban fugitives hiding in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan that continues to remain outside the direct control of the Pakistani state, have drawn the attention of the world community to the region. Pakistan's latest attempts to emphatically establish its writ in the area by military means has been resisted by the fiercely independent locals. Moreover, the move has been perceived by the populace at large as an abject surrender of Pakistani sovereignty to the US. Even the military has serious reservations about fighting in the FATA, in a war that they believe to be somebody else's. As a result, Pakistan's policy in the FATA has undergone a somersault of sorts.
Pakistan is under pressure to review the Waziristan deal with the attack on a seminary in Bajaur on 30 October, which killed over 80 men, standing out as a stark manifestation of West's growing impatience with Pakistan. Though Pakistani authorities claimed credit for the attack, the locals believe it to be a US aircraft, with an earlier attack by the US in Bajaur lending credence to these allegations. It is inconceivable that Pakistani military would launch an aerial attack with the risk of collateral damage, when the task could be achieved by heliborne ground troops. The timing of attack, on the eve of a peace deal with tribal leaders in Bajaur - akin to the one signed in North Waziristan- is even more important. Apparently, Pakistan does not want to accept another infringement on its sovereignty as that would infuriate the public and, more importantly, weaken Musharraf's position within his own constituency - the Army.
The Bajaur incident has indicated that the Pakistan's policy of buying peace by letting the militants have a free run is as good as dead. It was only on 5 September 2006 that Pakistan signed a deal with the militants in North Waziristan agency thereby virtually handing over the region to them. Since then, the militants have institutionalised their authority over the region. A state within the state has been created and those perceived as being Western agents are being eliminated. The Taliban not only set up an office, but also appointed advisers to lay down the laws, in accordance with their interpretation of the Shariat.
After jettisoning the Waziristan model of buying peace, Musharraf made strong statements against the militants to gain favours from the US and its allies. He has projected the operations in Bajaur as a manifestation of his resolve to crush militant activity. Although Afghanistan continues to criticise Pakistan for allowing Taliban to use its territory to launch attacks within Afghanistan and for not doing enough to rein in madrassas that spew hatred and train militants, Pakistan had managed to convince the US of its commitment in ending hostilities that serve to only weaken the army's standing and Musharraf's position in face of the losses sustained by Pakistani army. The US now seems to have run out of patience. Many Western analysts believe that the Waziristan deal has jeopardized the NATO campaign in southern Afghanistan and want Musharraf to attack Taliban sanctuaries within the FATA.
On the other hand, the popular perception within Pakistan that is gaining ground, is that Pakistan has become a client state of the US leading to an erosion of support for Musharraf. The frequent incursions by US armed forces within Pakistan have not really helped matters. The public also believes that the Americans are not bothered about collateral damages in their hunt for Al Qaeda's top leadership. This has increased local alienation from the military regime, with the Army now being regarded as a legitimate target. The first-ever suicide attack on an army camp, in which 42 soldiers were killed is a case in point. However, what has been of immense worry to Musharraf is the dissidence within the armed forces over operations in the FATA. Unlike in Balochistan and other internal conflicts, where it has presented a united front, six officers have been court martialed for refusing to fight in the FATA. Also, despite using disproportionately large force supported by the artillery and the attack helicopters, it has nevertheless, failed to establish the writ of the state. The army is unhappy operating in an inhospitable region for a goal that they find difficult to relate to. Moreover, the religious angle and the ethnic affinity of the troops with the rebels further add to their reluctance. Musharraf therefore finds himself in the throes of a dilemma, where he erodes his position if he takes a tough stance in the FATA and antagonises the West if he does not.