Pakistan’s Swat deal under microscope again, after attack
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that an agreement signed last month to allow Islamic law in the troubled Swat Valley in return for a ceasefire was made with religious clerics, and not the Taliban. The Pakistani state had not negotiated with the Taliban and other extremist elements, and nor will it ever do so, Zardari wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.
But some people are questioning the distinction that Zardari is drawing between the “traditional local clerics” and the Swat Taliban militants who effectively control what was once an idyllic holiday destination. In the light of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the first major strike on international sport since the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972, the debate over the deal has acquired a sharper edge as some see it as having emboldened the militants in the first place.
Bill Roggio, writing in the The Weekly Standard blog, says Sufi Mohammad, the cleric who negotiated the ceasefire in Swat with the government of the North West Frontier Province, has been a long-time Taliban supporter praising them as recently last month just days before the accord was signed.
He quotes Mohammad as saying in a recent interview that he believed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 was “ideal.”
“From the very beginning, I have viewed democracy as a system imposed on us by the infidels. Islam does not allow democracy or elections,” Mohammad told Deutsche Presse-Agentur just days before the latest agreement was signed. “I believe the Taliban government formed a complete Islamic state, which was an ideal example for other Muslim countries.”
In 1990s, Mohammed ran an armed campaign to force the introduction of sharia in the region and in 2001 led his supporters to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban against U.S.-led coalition forces as this Reuters story says. He was arrested upon his return and released in 2007 after he said he was giving up violence.
His son-in-law Mullah Fazlullah, the radical anti-government cleric, now runs the armed campaign in Swat where militants have unleashed a reign of terror, killing and beheading politicians, singers, soldiers and opponents. They have banned female education and destroyed nearly 200 girls’ schools.
“President Zardari’s entire premise for negotiations falls apart when you look at who the government is actually negotiating with. And the United States is supposed to be comforted in knowing Pakistan has ceded territory to a man who praises the Taliban and sent thousands of fighters to kill our troops in Afghanistan,” Roggio writes.
Pakistan’s Dawn said the Lahore attack was a price the state was paying for giving in to militants and takes issue with the Pakistani authorities for trying to pass it off as a local deal.
“Tuesday’s assault also highlights the folly of negotiating with those bent on destroying our way of life. The peace deal, or capitulation, in Swat has been described by officialdom as a regional solution to a regional problem. This does not wash, it cannot fly. Militancy and terrorism are national problems that are not confined to a specific region.”
“The obscurantists must be tackled head-on if we are to entertain any hope of redemption. If the state resorts to negotiating with militants from a position of weakness, what we will get is disaster, across the board.”
And the Taliban won’t be stopped in Swat either, warns author Ahmed Rashid in a piece for the YaleGlobal Online . He writes that from their lair in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) the Taliban have already expanded their influence into the settled areas of North West Frontier Province and virtually laid siege to the capital Peshawar
Rashid says the Swat deal has become an explosive issue within Pakistan, going in some ways to the heart of the struggle. “Right wing, religious-minded citizens and politicians praise it for bringing peace to Swat, while liberal Pakistanis see it as an unmistakable watershed in the country’s battle against Islamic extremism, giving Al Qaeda and the Taliban a new safe haven.”
And from where they can carry out attacks. Which makes the whole deal quite different from the local, limited arrangement that the Pakistani establishment led by Zardari is suggesting it is.
[Reuters pictures of girls in a school that reopened in Swat, a member of Pakistani Islamist delegation and a military helicopter at Lahore cricket ground]