Mar 2, 2009

Swat’s uneasy truce

The uneasy calm that prevails in Swat as a consequence of the controversial agreement between the NWFP government and the militants through the leader of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi ,Maulana Sufi Muhammad, is accident prone and could prove to be short-lived.
This was demonstrated by the cold-blooded murder of journalist Musa Khankhel and the abduction of the Swat DCO. The latter was released shortly afterwards reportedly in exchange for some militants in government custody. The accord envisages the restoration of the qazi courts and the imposition of Sharia.
This precarious truce is based on logic bordering on absurdity. A democratically elected government has entered into an agreement whereby the writ of the state is being virtually handed over to a group of clerics who believe that democracy itself is un-Islamic. Sufi Muhammad is reported to have said, ‘From the very beginning, I have viewed democracy as a system imposed on us by the infidels. Islam does not allow democracy or elections.’
Further, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan under the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah has to be brought on board if this accord has any chance of survival. The Sharia would, therefore, be imposed by the TNSM and TTP whose skewed interpretation of Islamic laws is well known. They have already relegated women to a pariah status, disallowed girls from attending school and consider dissent an intolerable crime punishable by death.
The acceptance by Swat residents to live under totalitarian rule and their willingness to sacrifice fundamental human rights should not be considered as the triumph of extremist ideology but a lack of faith in the state to protect them against this menace.
Apparently, the truce, for whatever it is worth, has been negotiated through the wrong person. Maulana Sufi is a mere figurehead and actual power vests in his firebrand son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah. It is unlikely that Fazlullah will agree to
surrender his weapons without which any agreement is meaningless. Furthermore, it has been reported that he is demanding amnesty for the death and devastation that he and his followers have inflicted on Swat.
Once again, whatever the logic behind this deal, the NWFP government has negotiated it from a position of weakness and is, therefore, being perceived as having capitulated to militant forces. To all appearances, the former has abandoned its responsibilities and has become a passive bystander as the militants decide on how they will enforce their warped interpretation of Islamic law.
The experience of Pakistan in recent times has been that the appeasement of extremists does not pay. A case in point is the Lal Masjid episode of July 2007 where the government turned a blind eye to the accumulation of a huge arsenal by the clerics of the mosque. Had preventive measures been taken earlier, the ensuing bloodbath could have been avoided. Furthermore, such appeasement only gives confidence to the militants that they can perpetrate acts of terrorist violence with impunity in any part of the country.
The ANP-led government in the NWFP seems to believe that the accord it has negotiated with Sufi Muhammad will result in sustainable peace and stability. The latter’s statement that a Taliban-style dispensation will be replicated in other Muslim countries belies the assumption of the Pakistan government that the cleric and his cohorts will be content with the imposition of Sharia in Swat alone. The cancer of terrorism in the guise of religion is likely to spread as is evident from the recent blasts in Dera Ismail Khan and other similar incidents.
Previous deals with the militants in the tribal areas were also acclaimed with similar optimism but had disastrous consequences. In each instance, the hiatus in military operations provided an opportunity to the terrorists to regroup, reorganise and replenish their supplies. The peace accords thus proved fragile and were violated by the Taliban.
This seems to have been brushed under the rug by the NWFP government whose ‘indecent haste’ to conclude the agreement with Sufi Muhammad was motivated by fear as well as its inability to stop the carnage in Swat.
World opinion on this agreement is also divided. Some subscribe to the point of view held by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates that the peace accord can lead to eventual stabilisation and, therefore, could be worthy of emulation by the Afghan government. Others believe, as does the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, that the agreement is tantamount to the capitulation of the state and can only further embolden the militants.
Howsoever this truce is analysed is inconsequential; what matters is that the people of Swat have virtually been coerced into accepting the Taliban interpretation of Islamic doctrine. To date the Swat insurgency has displaced approximately 50 per cent of its 1.8 million residents.
They are now being asked to return to their homes on the questionable assumption of the NWFP government that lasting peace has been restored in the valley. The actual beneficiaries of the accord are the militants who have consolidated themselves in yet another area of Pakistan.

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