Several Pakistani newspapers are reporting that the Mahsud tribe held a jirga yesterday at which its elders agreed to hand over Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Hakimullah Mahsud and 378 other wanted men to the government.
The jirga, meeting at the Political Compound in Tank in South Waziristan and consisting of around 300 senior members of the tribe, also agreed to meet all seven conditions put forward by the Pakistani government as a precondition for halting the military offensive into the Mahsud tribal lands. The government had said that yesterday was a deadline for agreement on the seven conditions.
According to The News, "The government conditions included surrender of 378 wanted persons, a ban on display of arms, acceptance of Collective Responsibility Clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and abstaining from giving shelter to foreign militants. The jirga announced to accept all the conditions and pledged to extend all possible help to the authorities in purging the area of militants."
Several Mahsud elders told the jirga that their tribesmen had no intention of fighting against the Pakistani Army and that they wanted the restoration of peace in South Wazirstan. They said Pakistan was their own country for which their ancestors had given numerous sacrifices. They added that they were patriotic citizens and wanted to see progress in South Wazirstan. They said they hoped that the government would help to rebuild the area and to compensate internally displaced persons (IDPs), who had to leave their homes in the region.
It was also agreed that another jirga should be held on 10 February. Addressing the jirga, South Waziristan Political Agent Syed Shahab Ali Shah said the government would provide all-out support to the tribal people affected by the operation. He lauded the cooperation of the jirga elders. Senator Maulana Salih Shah also attended.
If this story is accurate, it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Does it mean that Hakimullah, Waliur Rahman, Qari Hussein and the other wanted men will surrender to the jirga? If not, will the jirga take up arms against them? Either way it could be a major disaster for the TTP, which is largely made up of Mahsud tribesmen.
Inevitably, there will be speculation that the wave of ten or more US drone strikes aimed at the TTP leadership since the suicide bombing of the CIA base at FOB Chapman in Khost on 30 December is behind the jirga decision. The strikes have been remarkably successful in killing senior leaders of the TTP - as well as foreign militants - and even injuring Hakimullah himself. The missiles appear to have broken the back of the Mahsud resistance.