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Why the Swat peace deal should alarm Pakistan too

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 18, 2009 10:45 pm

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari created a stir last week when he said that the Taliban had entrenched themselves in large parts of his country. Referring to the huge numbers of soldiers deployed to fight the Taliban and some domestic criticism that he was fighting America’s war,he told a US network: “We’re fighting for the survival of Pakistan. We’re not fighting for the survival of anybody else.” The interview was to be broadcast on Sunday. A day later,on Monday,his government announced that it had signed a peace deal allowing for the eventual implementation of Sharia law and cessation of fighting in the Swat valley,where federal forces have been losing ground to Taliban fighters. This is a high-risk and questionable strategy to contain the spreading clout of the Taliban in the Northwest Frontier Province. Attempts to find peace through surrender to militants can easily backfire,and it is with good reason that developments are being tracked with great alarm not just internationally,but within Pakistan too.

Swat,till recently popular with tourists looking for an alpine break,has of late seen the most vicious implementation of the Taliban’s fiats. Girls have been forbidden from attending school,school buildings have been blown up,dozens of people have been beheaded,and thousands of Swat’s residents have already fled. The irony is acute: one of the big surprises of the 2008 election was the rout of the religious parties in the NWFP,including Swat. Now,there is the prospect of the Taliban’s consolidation. Currently,the local Taliban are committed to a 10-day ceasefire; and,in response,the military has been shifted to a “reactive mode”. Attention is now focused on the efforts of a pro-Taliban cleric,Maulana Sufi Mohammed,to sell the government’s offer to the fighters,the most prominent leader being his son-in-law,Maulana Fazlullah.

Pakistan has earlier tried such ceasefires with militants,to see them backfire. The moral hazard of conceding to the Taliban’s demands apart,even if a ceasefire were to be strengthened,great security dangers would remain. A ceasefire would be simply an opportunity for the militants to regroup.

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