February 17, 2009

Pakistan caves to the militants

The Swat Valley

On February 16, the Pakistani government made a deal with a group of Taliban militants in the Malakand region. That region includes the Swat area - 100 miles northwest of the capital of Islamabad - which allows the group to establish fundamentalist Islamic Shari'ah law in that region. In return, the militants have agreed to a ceasefire with the Pakistani military.

There are areas of Pakistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), that are semi-autonomous. These areas - in blue on the map - are between the border with Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The NWFP is shown in green.

The Swat area - shown above in yellow - is not in the FATA. Swat is well within the NWFP, part of the totally sovereign area of Pakistan proper. Well, at least it was until this agreement was signed.

The acquiescence of the Pakistani government to enter into this type of agreement with a group of fundamentalist Islamic clerics is pathetic. The government is acting tactically, not strategically. They hope to stem the rising tide of violence in the region, violence instigated and perpetrated by the Taliban active in the area. They need to address the long-term interests of Pakistan.

The Islamic group that the Pakistani government has dealt with has beheaded people, burned girls schools and taken on the sovereign government. These actions are consistent with the strict interpretation of Islamic law, the Shari'ah. Yet, the agreement for a ceasefire between Pakistan's armed forces and the militants includes a provision that this same Shari'ah law will be implemented in the region.

The chief minister in North West Frontier Province, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, claimed that Pakistani troops would revert to defensive operations, fighting only when attacked. They will standby as the courts implement Shari'ah law. That means that Muslim clerics will "advise" judges on cases. In reality, fundamentalist Taliban clerics will run the courts.

Technically, the agreement does not ban female education - we'll see. When the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, girls were barred from schools. These are the people the Pakistani government, our allies in the war on terrorism (read: war on radical Islam), made a deal with?

If this agreement was focused on an area in the FATA, one might understand. This agreement deals with territory in Pakistan proper. What's next? Give the city of Quetta or Karachi to the Taliban?