The dilemma facing Pakistan By Rahimullah Yusufzai, Correspondent Published: February 20, 2009, 23:02 Pakistan is caught in a dilemma. Whenever it m


The dilemma facing Pakistan
By Rahimullah Yusufzai, Correspondent
Published: February 20, 2009, 23:02

Pakistan is caught in a dilemma. Whenever it makes a peace move to try and resolve the conflicts taking place on its territory, there is invariably strong criticism from not only foes such as India but also friends and allies in the Western world.

This happened again when the federal government in Islamabad and the provincial authorities based in Peshawar engaged a non-violent Islamic group, Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-i-Mohammadi (TNSM) in peace talks and sought to use the influence of its charismatic leader Maulana Sufi Mohammad to persuade the violent Taliban faction operating in the Swat district to lay down arms.

The US reaction has been cautious with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying that the Swat peace accord was under study and a State Department spokesman describing it as nothing objectionable because the issue was handled by Pakistan in keeping with its Constitution. However, the US-led Nato and American military commanders in Afghanistan expressed concern over the peace deal as they felt it could turn Swat into a safe-haven for the Taliban and other militants.

At home, secular and liberal forces termed the Swat peace accord as capitulation before the Taliban. They felt the government was giving a free hand to terrorists who had beheaded opponents and security forces personnel, blown up schools, banned girls’ education and set up a parallel administration and Sharia courts in Swat.

However, the critics never bothered to find out that the accord was made with an Islamic group that believed in peaceful struggle for enforcement of Islamic law in Swat and rest of Malakand region and had pledged to bring peace to the area. No agreement had been made with the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban in Swat who were part of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Baitullah Mehsud. Instead, the elderly cleric Sufi Mohammad had been tasked to convince Maulana Fazlullah, who happened to be his son-in-law also, to stop fighting the Pakistani security forces and settle for an Islamic system of justice. The system wasn’t a full Sharia but was just an improvement on the Qazi courts functioning in Swat and rest of Malakand region since 1994. The courts were to be manned by judges trained both in secular and Islamic law and not by mullahs as it was being made out in the Western media.

The Swat peace deal isn’t a done thing. President Asif Ali Zardari, vulnerable to US pressure and lacking credibility in Pakistan, hasn’t signed the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation, commonly known as Sharia Ordinance, and has linked it to restoration of peace in Swat. Pakistan’s powerful armed forces that lost a significant number of troops in Swat and in the tribal areas in the battle against local and foreign militants, are also keeping an eye on the development as they may not support amnesty for Taliban leaders accused of crimes and human rights abuses.

Besides, the provincial government in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) that comprises the secular ANP and PPP and had spearheaded the peace talks in Swat, don’t want to fail again after having made a failed peace accord with the Swati Taliban in May last year. So much is at stake for all the stakeholders that they want the peace effort to succeed. Failure would certainly lead to yet another round of fighting.

Elsewhere in the province, the Pakistan Army is still busy in its military operations in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions. The military action in Bajaur started in August 2008 but the militants haven’t been defeated yet even though they have suffered heavy losses. The operation in Mohmand has made some headway but the militants are still able to launch attacks against the security forces. The troops are also alert in the semi-tribal territory of Darra Adamkhel, where recently Taliban militants brutally killed Polish engineer, Petr Stanzak, after having kidnapped him from Attock district in Punjab province late last year.

Of greater worry to the US and its Nato allies are the tribal regions of South Waziristan and North Waziristan. The Pakistan Army has stopped military action there after making peace accords there with the Taliban groups. It seems Pakistan has left the two Waziristans at the mercy of the US Army. The CIA-operated drones carried out a record 32 missiles attacks in the South and North Waziristan last year and five such strikes have taken place since the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The pilotless US predators have extended their range and scope of targets by attacking suspected hideouts of militants in the Kurram, Khyber and Frontier Region Bannu tribal regions. Despite Pakistan’s protests, the US has refused to stop the missile strikes in the Pakistani terrirtory as Washington is convinced the attacks have killed a number of important Al Qaida figures and forced others to flee the tribal areas.

However, on the flip side the US missile attacks have contributed to a radicalised population and embarrassed Pakistan’s leadership.

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