So, finally a solution has been found to stop the conflict and violence in Swat with the NWFP government entering into a peace agreement with the Taliban through Sufi Mohammad’s Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi.
We are informed by some commentators that this could be the only alternative acceptable to the people who are tired of the fighting between the military and the militants in Swat. In any case, it is further observed, Pakistan’s military was fighting America’s war rather than its own. The bonus for the people is that they would now get speedy justice.
The agreement comes in the wake of revelations from the US that American drones fly from Pakistani bases. If true, this would not only mean that the Pakistani government has been economical with the truth, but that the military too was not being entirely honest by publicly questioning Washington’s position on directing attacks at Pakistan’s territory.
This would have angered the Taliban who continue to have a soft corner for the military, not to mention ordinary Pakistanis some of whom actually believe that the military commanders are more gutsy than the politicians and would not allow American interests to take precedence over national ones.
No one dares explain it to the people that the US is probably equally important to Pakistan’s elite for the flow of all kinds of resources. It is totally another issue that financial and development assistance rarely trickles down to the people. The elite’s professed dislike of the US is probably a pretence so that the aid and other resources are kept away from the common man.
The acceptance of the Swat deal is no different either. One of the reasons that the deal was negotiated and is being sold hard by the present government is because it suits Islamabad, Washington and the Taliban to have a ceasefire. While the Taliban get de facto recognition, Pakistan, Nato and the US forces get some breathing space. It is argued that the reason why US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not eager to denounce the deal was that this was considered a way of dividing Al Qaeda-controlled Taliban and the Swat Taliban.
The argument has two dimensions. It was important to solve the Swat issue since the territory in question is closer to Pakistan’s capital than are the tribal areas. Second, because the genesis of the Taliban problem in Swat was of a different nature, it was believed that by introducing Sharia it would arrest the change in society there.
The problem in Swat, in fact, has been broken down almost like an atom in smaller pieces and the solution found to at least one set of problems is to introduce a legal system that delivers much faster than the one followed in the rest of the country.
At one level we must all feel relieved that the present government is about to build some institutions in one part of the country. It is another matter that this is tantamount to bringing about a system that would define our identity as a country and nation for ever. It is a fact that Pakistan being an Islamic re
public in principle there should not be any tension between the notion of an Islamic identity and all existing laws. However, this does not justify the change that is about to be brought about in Swat. The deal, in fact, raises a lot of questions such as who will define the Sharia? Who will be the neutral arbiter in case of a conflict between the government’s vision of Sharia and the Taliban’s conceptualisation?
The official argument is that the Sharia would not be dictated by the Taliban but would be the age-old system that ran in Swat until 1969. However, such reasoning does not explain Fazlullah’s militant actions. There are dividends for him and the Taliban such as his madressah being turned into an Islamic university where the Taliban will be allowed to teach. Or is this deal re-invoking the older logic of dividing the bad Taliban from the good Taliban? The latter are those that even the US wants to talk to in order to survive and later exit from Afghanistan, while the former include those who have been rejected altogether.
A speedy system of justice is a popular demand in Swat, but then we are talking here about a specific law, not to mention the problems that will be faced in its implementation. There are no guarantees that the Taliban will give up the battle easily, especially as they know that they have managed to manipulate the state. After all, the deal was signed because the provincial government was concerned about the security of its members and supporters. The ANP has lost over 100 people and couldn’t stand up to the pressure any more.
The overall policy might not be contrary to Washington’s interests. Rather the deal may be aimed at easing the way for both the Pakistani and US governments. We had been hearing from British commanders about the possibility of co-opting the Taliban. Dividing the different groups precedes the co-option plan. The divide and rule formula may certainly bring some respite, but it is unlikely to change the tone of social development in Pakistan in the long term.
Given the fact that the speedy Sharia system in Swat will also redress existing class differences that lay at the heart of the Taliban’s ascendancy to power and prominence, the system is likely to become popular all over the country. Moreover, in a country where class differences and sharp social disparities and injustice lie at the heart of most problems, other groups of people could be tempted to use violence to change the social system through the legal system.
The bottom line is that while conflict might be arrested for the short term in one part of the country, it might escalate in other parts where groups of people acting like the Taliban could impose their will on the rest of the population in the name of changing the judicial, economic or political system. Ultimately, this could come to redefine Pakistan’s identity completely. By Ayesha Siddiqa