By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau
The failed May 1 Times Square car bombing is rattling the Waziristan tribal badlands of Pakistan. Tribal chieftains and militant leaders are furious with Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud and his deputy, master bomb maker Qari Hussain Mehsud, for making Internet videos boasting of responsibility for the attempt and promising more attacks soon. America's Predator drones have been working overtime ever since, killing and wounding dozens of suspected militants. But beyond that, Waziris fear action from Pakistan's military, which was already under extreme U.S. pressure to launch an offensive against militants in the region.
Hoping to lower that risk, tribal and militant heads formed a jirga--a tribal delegation--of roughly a dozen representatives to speak to Hakimullah. According to a Pakistani tribal commander, the jirga met twice with Qari Hussain near the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali. Representatives from some of the region's most important insurgent groups, including the Afghan Taliban, were there: Afghan leader Sirajuddin Haqqani sent a delegate, the tribal commander says, and a South Waziristan subcommander, asking not to be named for safety's sake, confirms that his leader, Mullah Nazir, was represented as well. According to tribal journalist Sailab Mehsud, the jirga was led by Mir Ali-based insurgent heads Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Sadiq Noor. All three Waziristan chiefs have ceasefire deals with Islamabad, even though they're at war against U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan.
The talks were preceded by a lavish tribal banquet, but they ended badly, says the anonymous commander, who asks not to be named for security reasons. "We are already at war," the tribal commander quotes him as telling the jirga, "and our leader has been killed"--a reference to Hakimullah's predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, who died in a drone attack last August. "Why should we be on the defensive against these infidels? They are firing at us, so we should be firing back at them everywhere." The jirga urged him to be more cautious, but it was no use. "If you put your hand in a snake's hole, you'll get bitten," a tribal elder said. "If they [the Americans] are snakes, then we are snakes too," Qari Hussain snarled back.
The talks broke up with no agreement. The tribal commander worries that the jirga only made Hakimullah and Qari Hussain angrier. And if Hakimullah gets his wish for an all-out war in Waziristan, the Afghan insurgency will suffer along with the Waziris. Qari's suicide bombers and demolitions experts will be tied down in the tribal area fighting the Pakistanis, and the flow of insurgents into Afghanistan is sure to be disrupted. That would mean real trouble for the Taliban as they face a flood of U.S. reinforcements.