Pakhtunkhwa Times

Pakistan’s gamble Making nice with the Taliban

Posted in 1 by ppfcanada on February 26, 2009

By Natasha Fatah
CBC News

“Nazia” is originally from the Swat valley in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the place where Pakistan authorities recently offered to allow Islamic law if Taliban militants lay down their arms. She knows the danger of these militants. When she speaks to her family in Swat on the phone every day from her new home in Canada, the sound of gunfire and bombs resonate in the background.

Niaza (who asked that her real name be withheld for fear of reprisal from militants here as well as in Pakistan) has lost many friends in the past months to the Taliban’s brutality. That includes an uncle who was murdered when the Taliban accused of him of being a spy for Pakistani intelligence.

She fears for the lives of those trapped in the midst of a bloody ideological war in the Swat.

Two weeks ago, Nazia joined a rally in Toronto organized by the Pakhtunkhwa Peace Forum. It was a gathering of ethnic Pashtoons from Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, pleading for peace in their countries of origin.

Along with their pleas, the protestors were emphatic that they did not want sharia (Islamic) law to be imposed in northern Pakistan, a proposal they knew was on the table to try to end the fighting.

But the very next day the North West Frontier Provincial government, led by Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti, unveiled the controversial peace deal with the Taliban. As part of the agreement, which was negotiated by both the provincial and national governments with the pro-Taliban political figure Sufi Mohammed, Pakistan will allow for the implementation of sharia law in the region, something that the Taliban happily welcomes.
Romantic destination

Swat was once a romantic destination for many Western tourists. The sheer beauty of its lakes, green valleys and mountainous backdrop attracted both backpackers and blue bloods alike. Some even affectionately referred to it as “The Switzerland of Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s troubled Swat region in the North West Frontier Provinces. (CBC)Pakistan’s troubled Swat region in the North West Frontier Provinces. (CBC)

But there are no more tourists in Swat these days because for the past two years, the Taliban has been gaining control of the area. Government accounts claim that over 1,600 Pakistanis have died in this period, mostly in the northwest region, because of Taliban violence.

The Pakistani military has been fighting back, but in January of this year it was obvious that the Taliban had seized pretty much complete control of a province whose southern tip is only a few hundred kilometres from the Pakistan capital Islamabad.

Caught in the crossfire between the military and the militants have been the people of Swat, people like Nazia’s family. Millions have fled their homes looking for refuge elsewhere and many have been murdered, often by public beheadings, a measure the Taliban has employed to keep the locals in line.

The military wasn’t winning and something had to be done. That something is the controversial peace proposal.

Its central plank is the promise of sharia law to address long-standing local grievances over a justice system that is perceived as too slow and unfair.

But at this point, it is not clear whether the Swat Taliban will really disarm or even allow for girls to receive an education. Up until last week the Taliban was bombing girl schools. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the provincial government has now proposed giving 30,000 rifles to the local citizenry so they can help keep the Taliban in line.

Afrasiab Khattak, the president of the ruling ANP political party in the region — someone who narrowly escaped a Taliban bombing last year — said that the people there are pleased with the compromise between the government and the Taliban.

Nazia is not so sure. She has seen the images of people in Swat rejoicing over this peace proposal but she says that we should not be fooled by these images. “If you give me two options: to be sick or to be killed,” she says, “then for sure I will choose not to die.”
A foot in the door

While Khattak says this decision will bring some short-term peace in the area, many Pakistanis — not to mention Barack Obama’s government in Washington — are worried about the long-term impact on the country.

Asma Jahangir, the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says the deal has “given a taste of victory to the militants.”

She goes on to argue that the government has made a terrible compromise in which the Taliban not only gain control over territory, through terror, but would now be legitimized through the institution of justice. This will leave the door open for more radicalism to grow, she says. “This is like the United Nations of militants running Swat.”

There is a growing fear in some circles in Pakistan now that the Taliban area of control will only spread if this deal goes through.

In fact, many in the Pashtoon community, Nazia among them, believe that the Pakistani military is behind this deal with the Taliban in order to destabilize the provincial government in the northwest and use that instability to reclaim its grip over the national government.

All sorts of wild rumours emanate from Pakistan these days. But Pakistanis in the north and south, and even here in Canada, agree that this is a pivotal time when governments are making deals with the Taliban.

Many fear that this deal will lead to destabilization, if not the end of Pakistan as we know it today.

2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous said, on February 26, 2009 at 9:36 am

    The News International

    Blood and Swat

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    This is in reference to Ayaz Amir’s article of Feb 20. The crux of his argument is that the government and the military had exhausted all their options, implying that this capitulation to the Taliban was the only option and that this might well have to be done in FATA and settled districts like Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan.

    I have a question for the writer. How many more Pakhtun youth will become cannon fodder for the jihadis in their proxy wars? How many Pakhtun mothers do our drawing-room columnists want to send to the graves of their children? Let Pakhtun blood serve its cause. Long live Islam and long live the Taliban.

    Riaz Ahmed

    Village Shamozai, Swat

  2. Anonymous said, on March 3, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Dr. Tanvir Orakzai March 03, 2009 From the days of Alexander the Great, FATA (Tribal belt of Pakistan) has been the most important route to the Indian subcontinent. Being a transit route for invaders, the Pasthun tribes in FATA have remained in eternal peril of captivating doom making them suspicious of all foreigners. This sense of insecurity has prevailed among Pasthuns for time immemorial; especially, if an intruder wish to change their way of life (religion and traditions); a vehement resistance flares up among all Pasthuns that often leads to deadly consequences. In the past 2000 thousand years, Pasthuns have been invaded by great military generals including Alexander the Great (326-330 BC), Mahmud Ghaznavi (998 AD) Mughal King Aurangzeb (1673-75),Great Britain ( 1841) and Soviet Union (1979). Pasthuns survived all these mighty incursions due to their resilience and fighting spirit.

    If some invasions were only skirmishes by the fleeting invaders, others were determined to control the fierce tribes through brute force. It is not unusual for a superpower to dismiss the less wealthy tribal people as crude and uncivilized people and rely on military strength alone, the British and Soviet Union were no exception. The British aversion (in 19th century) to comprehend FATA´s psyche initially cost them dearly; they lost campaign after campaign except some Pyrrhic victories. However British were shrewd enough to learn lesson from their mistakes and resorted to diplomacy that helped them to keep the FATA in peace with limited control till Pakistan independence.

    Soviet Union as an ideology was based on expansionism. For Soviet Union dividing Afghanistan and Pakistan was its natural right to reach the oil of the Middle East. Being triumphant in the past, for Red Army the campaign of Afghanistan was no more than a few months long adventure that proved a fatal mistake. The Soviets brought violent change in Afghanistan without understanding the nature of its tribal people and culture. It feels splendid to initiate brutal change in a far off country dismissing its people as untaught brutes from a comfortable office, however they lost an empire. For Red Army invading Afghanistan was not a problem, they had all of Afghanistan in few weeks, the real concern was, how to stay alive after occupation.

    Pasthuns are divided into various clans and tribes, living not only in tribal belt, but also sprawled in the semi-tribal areas all over North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan (Pakistan) and across the border in Afghanistan. All Pasthuns tribes are banded together due to common language, religion, and traditions. Majority of the Pasthun tribes have been living in their tribal enclaves for centuries according to their own norms. It is not uncommon for a visitor to find few bleak mud houses in FATA barren land. It may look outlandish for someone living in the city to come across such dissimilar life style, but this has been the way of life in FATA for aeons. The remoteness from city life has created a sense of unlimited freedom among all tribal people, where an individual is responsible only to his tribe and no one else. Such thinking has given rise to an inflated ego in all Pasthuns, where loyalty to the clan is obligatory in all circumstances. This way of thinking has divided a Pasthun world into two shades of thoughts “We versus Them”. Thus a Pasthun can be extremely loyal towards his own tribe, and hostile towards outsider, if he finds himself under threat.

    Centuries of harsh life have made Pasthuns masters of their area; no one knows their terrain better than them. Having indigenous knowledge of the terrain and being skilful in the art of warfare, it is common for a Pasthun to be expert in ambush and sabotage. Having command over the valleys and its mountains, tribesmen effectively use this indigenous knowledge for their advantage in the wake of a conflict. Be it fighting with the casual invaders or regular army, Pasthuns have been protecting their identity throughout the ages by launching Jihad. The invading army often targets a single area in a mistaken belief that the conflict would be over in few weeks; which never comes true. The history is vivid with such examples where kings and emperor miscalculated their adventures, such as Mogul Campaign (1675), British Campaign of Afghanistan (1839-1842) British Campaign of Waziristan (1935-36), Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (1979), all of which started as minor skirmishes and ended up in decade long campaigns with disastrous results.

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