Pakistan this week agreed to a peace deal with the Taliban in the area known as the Swat Valley, suspending its military offensive and imposing tough Islamic law in that area. Religious experts will now sit in courts with judges to make sure rulings comply with Islam.
U.S. officials have expressed great concern about the deal struck between the Pakistani government and Taliban leaders.
See the Worldfocus interview about Swat Valley: Pakistan strikes peace deal with Taliban.
Jauhar Ismail blogs at “All Things Pakistan” and discusses the implications of the agreement for the U.S. and for locals in Swat Valley.
Deal in Swat: Good Move or Bad Move?
In my opinion, the devil is really in the details and the implementation of this agreement. I have mixed feeling on this: It is hard to see how the situation in Swat can be controlled only through the military means; there has to be a political dimension. This is what the U.S. is also learning the hard way in Afghanistan where there is already a talk of having some sort of adjustment with “moderate Afghan Taliban”.
In an ideal world, you would have hoped that Pakistan army would have gained the upper hand in Swat and then they could have negotiated from the position of strength. Unfortunately this is not the case. Despite several attempts, the army could not make any significant gains in Swat. Part of this is due to bad strategy and partly due the nature of guerrilla-warfare. Pakistan army was never trained to fight a counter-insurgency; fighting against India is what the focus has been so it does’t come as a surprise that it didn’t perform very well.
As far as their strategy goes, it was based primarily on using gunships and (artillery) shelling against suspected militant hide-outs. This approach is not very conducive to counter-insurgency because it leads to a lot of collateral damage. As the U.S. experience in Iraq shows, your mission in such a situation must really be to “secure the population”. This was the fundamental change in strategy that U.S. Gen. David Petraeus made but such a change requires putting a lot of boots on the ground, taking a lot more causalities and better intelligence. Unfortunately the Pak army was unwilling and incapable to take this approach which resulted in the bloody Swat stalemate.
Against this backdrop, the agreement can offer a way out if government can play its cards correctly. It should also be noted that this is not the first time that Swat will be under the so-called Shari’s law. This was the case for decades when Swat/Dir region was part of the princely state and life was governed by “Customary law”. The elected representatives of the Swat region have also been in favor of incorporating some populist militant demands such as Qazi courts and quick and simply justice with a 6 months deadline to process all cases.
One can hope that by incorporating the populist demands and a willingness to understand and work with local sensitivities, the authorities can gain credibility with the local population and take some of the wind out of the insurgency’s sails.
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