Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pakistan Truce

The Pakistani government, unable to contain the threat from the Taliban militants in the Swat Valley, signed a truce last week pulling away its military effectively allowing Sharia to be implemented in the region. This is not unlike the truce Musharraf signed in 2006 in Waziristan that gave rise to names like Baitullah Mehsud to flourish in the region. The militants have held out a long fight in the region, terrorized the local population with floggings and the burning of schools. Under pressure, the Pakistani government has granted autonomy to around 70 percent of the Swat Valley, just 100 miles from Islamabad. The move has been criticized by Pakistani and western analysts as a capitulation by a government desperate to stop Taliban abuses and a military embarrassed at losing ground after more than a year of intermittent fighting.

But, in an op-ed published by the USA Today on Thursday (, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani has said the Swat deal should not be taken as a concession to Taliban. He defends his government's actions as an attempt "to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and the militant Taliban on the one hand, and Swat's indigenous movement that seeks to restore traditional law in the district." He claims that the insurgency in the Swat Valley is mostly indigenous, has been present for decades, and which demands primarily the implementation of traditional law in the region. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda are looking to incorporate this movement into their scope in order to strengthen its abilities. Ambassador Haqqani states that this is a pragmatic military and political strategy to turn the native population against the real terrorists. Both the government and the militants are looking to sway the local population their way and the government's strategy here is to grant the natives what they are asking for while turning them against foreign terrorists who have a global jihadist agenda. While the move creates a safehaven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to operate freely, it also makes pragmatic sense for a military that is stretched beyond its capability to face a small defeat now in order to win big later. Ambassador Haqqani makes an interesting distinction between the two movements (out of many) in Pakistan that westerners just lump together as one. In a way, it is a success point for Al-Qaeda's public diplomacy that they are able to mesh their agenda with local insurgency agendas and increase its base such that is is becoming harder to distinguish the various groups.

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