May 6, 2009 12:14:35 am
What was a bad deal to begin with may finally have come to the end of its self-negating logic. As the
Pakistan army continued its offensive against the Taliban in Buner and Dir,accusing the militants of violating the Swat peace deal put in place in February (through abductions and murders of civilians and security personnel),the Taliban on Monday declared the peace deal dissolved. Following the declaration,and given the armed Taliban patrolling roads,the Pakistan government on Tuesday asked citizens to vacate Mingora,the main city in the Swat valley. In fact,Taliban fighters had been patrolling roads and attacking security posts irrespective of the curfew imposed by the civil administration in Swat. As has been argued in these columns earlier,apologists for the Swat deal those reiterating that the implementation of Sharia law changed little from what obtained under democratic administrations in the 90s
ignored the new reality of girls schools being bombed,dress codes being fanatically enforced,and so on. These defenders of the Swat deal had lost the debate when the Taliban began spreading to adjoining areas,and in early April entered Buner district.
That the Taliban now says that the deal is over owes to the military operations that began under US pressure,apparently to flush militants out of Buner and Dir. About 200 Taliban fighters have been killed in the offensive and the Taliban threatens large-scale retaliation,even as it reportedly holds thousands of civilians hostage as human shields. The Swat deal was signed with cleric Sufi Muhammad,the pro-Taliban leader of the Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat-i-Mohammadi and father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah,the Swat Taliban commander. Not only did Sufi Muhammad fail to get the Taliban to lay down arms but his control over the militants and his sincerity were also always in doubt.
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Nobody needs to tell the Pakistan government that,in the Taliban,it is not facing an enemy of everyday extremists. What they represent was apparent from the beginning and a soft policy thereon was a non-starter. In fact,with the Taliban declaring the deal dissolved,it should serve as the signal for the Pakistan army to extend its operations in Swat. That extension,if genuine,could be the beginning of the long-awaited assertion of federal authority in the troubled region.
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