Thursday, May 22, 2008

Pakistan: Talks, Not War

In Iraq, the regime is attacking in Mosul with U.S. support but peacefully moving through Sadr City under an agreement reached with Iranian help that bans U.S. troops in the area; in Lebanon, fighting provoked by the hardline, U.S.-supported regime ended with a compromise favoring Hezbollah; in Somalia, negotiations have been suspended for a few days, while the insurgents/nationalists intensify attacks on the U.S.-supported Ethiopian intervention forces.

Meanwhile, despite “despite explicit expressions of concern from the United States about such truces,” Pakistan has negotiated a deal with the Taliban in the Swat Valley that appears to give them a significant measure of autonomy. For a less than enthusiastic summary, see Threatswatch.

The negotiations were successfully concluded despite a U.S. missile strike about which Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said, "I strongly condemn this. It's absolutely wrong. It's unfair. They should not have done this action."

The agreement itself raises numerous questions:

  • Although the Pakistani government claims that no militias will be allowed, the Taliban has already made it clear they will observe the peace only so long as sharia law is implemented.
  • The government claims that women will not be compelled to wear veils or give up education and barber shops are not to be attacked, raising the question of what the contents of “sharia law” will be in this case.
  • Despite the agreement, militants launched an attack on government positions the very next day, on May 22. Tehreek-e-Taliban Swat spokesman Muslim Khan denied his group had been involved, raising the question of what has changed.

A Dawn editorial pointed out one of the most intriguing questions:

FATA is emerging as a ground zero as mixed signals come from Washington and Islamabad on the NWFP government’s initiative to strike peace deals with the militants. The US has been wary of such accords because of their history; militants have used the agreements signed with the military in recent years to bide time, regroup and continue their terrorist activities, of which Pakistan too has borne the brunt of late. The argument advanced by the Frontier government that the proposed peace deals will succeed this time round because they are being underwritten by an elected government as opposed to the earlier agreements signed with the military, and which were not backed by public mandate, can only be sustained if all concerned are on board. This is hardly the case. Washington and Kabul aside, even Islamabad has not extended its unconditional support to the Frontier government’s engagement with the militants. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi has been heard on occasion parroting the line the Americans want to hear: no compromise with the militants. Thus, mystery surrounds the issue: the ANP-led government is talking to the militants; the PPP does not have a clear stance on the matter; the US and Nato keep carrying out bombing raids on Taliban/Al Qaeda targets inside Fata; and Kabul has been assailing what it calls Pakistan’s policy of ‘appeasing the Taliban’.

And all of that for just one valley.

No comments: