When Pakistan began signing those infamous "peace accords" with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the Fall of 1996, it was obvious that the agreements would have both immediate--and far-reaching consequences--in the War of Terror.
Over the short-haul, the peace deals gave Taliban and Al Qaida elements a chance to reestablish safe havens in Pakistan's western tribal areas. With their former sanctuaries in Afghanistan largely gone (thanks to five years of U.S. and NATO military attacks), terrorists gained a new opportunity to rebuild logistical and training bases, training more fighters for new operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more distant locations as well.
Less than two years after the first "Waziristan Accord" was signed, the effects of those peace agreements are now being felt as far away as Spain. Today's edition of The New York Times reports that Spanish police recently arrested members a suspected Pakistani terrorist cell in Barcelona.
The group had been dispatched to Europe in recent months, with plans to launch a new wave of terrorist bombings in Spain, France, Portugal, Germany and Great Britain. According to European investigators, the Barcelona cell formed with support (and perhaps direction) from Pakistan's tribal regions.
But Spanish prosecutors face several obstacles in convicting the accused terrorists. First, their case is based almost entirely on information from a member of the group, who was also an informant for the French intelligence service. Secondly, relatively little physical evidence was seized in raids on the apartments of group members and a mosque that some of the men attended. Thirdly, the purported plot--initial bombings, followed by the threats of more attacks in demands by terrorist leaders aren't met--doesn't exactly have the hallmarks of a traditional Al Qaida operation.
Still, there is little doubt about the growing terror threat from Pakistan. Terrorists with connections to that country have participated (or been implicated) in a number of attacks over the past five years, including the London transit bombings in 2005, and last year's foiled attempt to bomb at U.S. airbase in Germany. Many of those terrorists trained at Pakistani camps, located mainly in the western tribal regions.
Some of the members of the Barcelona ring are still at large, and European authorities can only wonder how many other cells have been dispatched from Pakistan in recent months. And, making matters worse, the terrorists' control over the tribal areas continues to grow. As Bill Roggio recently noted at the Long War Journal, Pakistan and the Taliban appear close to signing the next round of peace deals to end the fighting in the tribal lands. Negotiations were announced after Islamabad's latest, failed military offensive came to a halt in early February.
Pakistani officials claim they are dealing from a position of strength, but the facts speak otherwise. Over the past 16 months, pro-Taliban and Al Qaida elements have steadily gained territory, influence and control in the western border area, while governmental authority has declined. The next round of peace deals will be another victory for the terrorists, and flow of fighters from Waziristan to Europe (and elsewhere) will likely increase.