Pakistan’s peace deals with militants: the march of folly?
Despite the reservations of its principal ally, the United States, Pakistan’s new civilian leaders have gone ahead and sued for peace with militants in the Swat valley this week, and by all indications are about to cut another deal, and this with the head of the Taliban in the country.
While the politicians have repeatedly emphasised their independence of action with regard to militants and vowed to pursue a different course from President Pervez Musharraf, can they really see these deals through without the Americans on board?
Unlikely, if you listen to the comments/analyses not just in the United States but within Pakistan itself, which while more welcoming of attempts to try a different tack, sees dangers ahead.
Rahimullah Yousafzai, the Peshawar-based executive editor of The News, writes that the peace accords are not going to be easy to implement in the face of U.S. opposition. He points to the U.S. missile strike in the village of Damadola in the Bajaur tribal agency earlier this month as an indicator of American displeasure over Pakistan’s policy of making deals with militants.
Eighteen people were killed in that strike aimed at a senior al Qaeda leader, but among the dead were women and children, drawing condemnation from Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
And within days, the militants struck back, carrying out a suicide bombing at an army base in Mardan in which 13 people were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it was to avenge Damadola.
It showed how quickly things could go wrong if the Pakistanis pulled in one direction and the Americans and NATO just over the porous border in Afghanistan pulled in another.
Pakistan’s peace deal with the militants in the Federally Administered Territorial Areas is actually meaningless if Islamabad cannot ensure the security of FATA against U.S. aerial attacks, Zeenia Satti, a Washington-based consultant and energy geopolitics analyst writes in The News.
Removing its forces from the area, as Pakistan has promised to do in the case of Swat, means nothing if a much larger force (U.S.) is going to strike with far more lethal weapons, she says.
Indeed, Zeenia argues that the peace deal may actually unleash the war on the Pakistan-Afghan border that America, in an election year, is increasingly under pressure to fight.
“There is an approaching danger on Pakistan’s western front in the form of extensive U.S. bombardment which could unleash social-politico upheaval,” she writes, citing a series of statements from U.S. leaders including President George W. Bush and CIA director Michael Hayden on the threat to America from the tribal belt straddling the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Capturing Al Qaeda through an attack on Pakistan could be viewed by the neocons as a good strategy to gain public applause during an election campaign,” Zeenia writes.
The remote frontier area is doubtless well on the U.S. radar now. Foreign Policy magazine has a photo-essay entitled Spring Time for the Taliban to show just how brazen the militants have become in the area, and are virtually the governing authority in many parts, enforcing their own brand of frontier justice.