Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The truce comes after nearly two years of fighting in which the Taliban have extended their control of the alpine region barely 130 km (80 km) northwest of Islamabad, destroyed the police force, established a shadow government and implemented an austere form of Islamic law.
So the question being asked in the aftermath of the deal is: has the Pakistan army backed off from a debilitating war? Second, and more important from the standpoint of the bigger battles ahead especially in the tribal areas, does it really have the stomach for counter-insurgency operations ?
Jauhar Ismail in a post on All Things Pakistan says in an ideal world he would have hoped that the Pakistan army gained the upper hand in Swat to allow the authorities to negotiate from a position of strength. But that didn’t turn out to be the case, partly because of bad strategy and also because of the nature of guerrilla warfare.
U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan have killed more than 50 people in the past three days in what appears to be an escalation of the military campaign in the troubled region along the Afghan border, conducted largely by unmanned drone aircraft.
On Saturday, a remote-controlled US drone bombed compounds in South Waziristan, killing at least 25 people. And on Monday, another US drone struck the Kurram tribal region, killing 26. Kurram had not been targeted earlier, so in that sense it represented a broadening of the campaign, while the high death toll speaks for the intensity of the strikes.
Pakistan has agreed to restore Islamic law in the turbulent Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the North-West Frontier Province. What does that mean? Sharia is understood and applied in such varied ways across the Muslim world that it is difficult to say exactly what it is. Will we soon see Saudi or Taliban-style hand-chopping for thieves and stonings for adulterers? Would it be open to appeal and overturn harsh verdicts, as the Federal Sharia Court in Islamabad has sometimes done? Or could it be that these details are secondary because sharia is more a political than a religious strategy here? (Photo: Swat Islamic leaders in Peshawar to negotiate sharia accord/16 Feb 2009/Ali Imam)
As is often the case in Pakistan, this issue has two sides -- theory and practice. In theory, this looks like it should be a strict but not Taliban-style legal regime. As Zeeshan Haider in our Islamabad bureau put in in a Question&Answer list on sharia in Swat:
Pakistan has agreed to introduce sharia law in the Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the north-west in a peace deal with Taliban militants. Religious conservatives in Swat have long fought for sharia to replace Pakistan’s secular laws, which came into force after the former princely state was absorbed into the Pakistani federation in 1969. The government apparently hopes that by signing a peace deal in Swat it can drive a wedge between conservative hardliners and Islamist militants whose influence has been spreading from the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan proper.
Critics are already saying the deal will encourage Taliban militants fighting elsewhere in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and could threaten the integrity of the country itself. Britain’s Guardian newspaper quotes Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think-tank in Islamabad, as calling the peace deal a surrender to the Taliban. It also quotes Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, as saying, ”It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding.”
Herschel Smith at the Captain’s Journal has picked up on a presentation about the increasing sophistication of Taliban fighting, which he thinks ”should be considered the most important thing to come out of Afghanistan in the past two years.” It’s very focused on the approach he says the U.S. military needs to adopt in response, but worth a read even by those not interested in army tactics.
The conclusion is striking:
“Iraq has allowed us to become tactically sloppy as the majority of fighters there are unorganized and poorly trained. This is not the case in Afghanistan. The enemy combatants here will exploit any mistake made by coalition forces with catastrophic results. Complacency and laziness will result in mass causalities.”
With Richard Holbrooke very much keeping his own counsel about his maiden visit to Pakistan, it’s been hard to assess quite how much change is to be expected from President Barack Obama’s new special envoy.
But a couple of early op-eds suggest that the change might be quite substantial.
In a camouflaged trailer truck in the Nevada desert, a bank of computer screens shows live images of a mud-walled compound in Afghanistan, 8,000 miles away. Those pictures are coming from a Predator unmanned aircraft that you, hunched over the computer in the darkened room not far from Vegas, are flying remotely.
Soon two vehicles stop in front of the targeted mud-baked house. Half a dozen bearded men hurry into the house. Seconds later, you squeeze the trigger in Nevada and a 500-pound bomb flattens the building. Classic Hollywood stuff? Yes, except that this is happening in a real battlefield, and as P.W. Singer, a military expert at Brookings, writes in a new book Wired for War, The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century, war by remote control is growing and leading a fundamental change.
It's hard to write about the Taliban on a religion blog without giving the impression that this militant movement in Afghanistan and Pakistan is basically religious. It's certainly Islamist, i.e. it uses Islam for political ends. But it's hard to find much religion in what they're doing, while there's a lot of power politics, Pashtun nationalism and insurrection against the Kabul and Islamabad governments there. (Photo: Pakistani pro-Taliban militants in Swat Valley, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)
It's often difficult to separate religion and politics in groups like this, but President Barack Obama gave a basic rule of thumb in his speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last week:
Afghanistan is beginning to accumulate cliches. If it’s not “Obama’s Vietnam”, then it’s the “graveyard of empires”. (The British press, never one to be bamboozled by the big picture, says it’s the end of bully beef for the troops.)
It is perhaps a measure of how little people really know about Afghanistan after more than seven years of war that such a complex conflict has to be simplified into labels. Afghanistan’s history of defeating the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century certainly lends itself to dramatic comparisons. But they are not entirely accurate. Britain’s failed Afghan campaign in 1838 was not the graveyard of the British empire — it went on to defeat the Sikhs and rule India for another 100 years. And the Soviet Union’s disastrous occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 may simply have accompanied rather than precipitated the collapse of an empire that had been rotting from within years before Soviet troops reached Kabul.
Former President Pervez Musharraf was always one for the grand gesture. So it should come as no surprise that after a period of relative obscurity following his resignation in August last year, he will visit India as part of a series of lectures he plans to give worldwide.
In an interview with the BBC, Musharraf, who has just returned from a trip to the United States, said he was enjoying his retirement and had been invited to give lectures on Pakistan and the South Asian region around the world. “He said the first invitation he had accepted was from India, where he expected to speak at a conference in Delhi next month,” the BBC said.