Friday, March 06, 2009

Truce in Swat Good for...the Taliban

But not so much for Pakistan, or the Pakistani government, or anybody forced to live under the harsh rule of Taliban militant Mauluna Fazlullah's version of the Sharia law:

The Taliban and the Pakistani Army signed a truce last month in Swat, the once popular tourist area just an hour north of the capital. But far from establishing peace, the pact seems to have allowed the Taliban free rein to expand their harsh religious rule.

Just days after the truce was signed, a member of a prominent anti-Taliban family returned to his mountain village, having received assurances from the government that it was safe. He was promptly kidnapped by the Taliban, tortured and murdered.

The militants then erected roadblocks to search cars for any relatives who dared travel there for his funeral. None did.

This week, two Pakistani soldiers who were part of a convoy escorting a water tanker were shot and killed because they failed to inform the Taliban in advance of their movements.

On Wednesday, the provincial government signed an accord with the local Taliban leader that imposes Islamic law, or Shariah, in the area, and institutes a host of new regulations, including a ban on music, a requirement that shops close during calls to prayer and the installation of complaint boxes for reports of anti-Islamic behavior. Local residents are skeptical that girls’ schools will be allowed to reopen.

Previous accords with the militants in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas have effectively created ministates with sanctuaries for Qaeda and Pakistani militants. The Pakistani government argued that the truce in Swat would free up the Pakistani Army, reduce civilian suffering and satisfy popular dissatisfaction with the local judiciary.


The government said it saw the truce as a way to separate what it considered to be more approachable militants, like Mr. Muhammad, from hard-line Taliban leaders like Maulana Fazlullah, his son-in-law, who is a young warlord flush with money and weapons. Mr. Fazlullah, backed by the main Pakistani Taliban group and Qaeda fighters, led the fight in Swat against the Pakistani Army in the past year.

Critics of the deal say that it has accomplished nothing like that, and that it has simply handed Swat, once a tolerant, princely kingdom, to the Taliban.


Despite the truce, most people remain terrified of the Taliban, said Mohammad Amad, executive director of a private aid group, the Initiative for Development and Empowerment Axis. Militants continue to hunt down anyone who backs the government and the army.

He cited the death of a relative, Rahmat Ali, the man who was killed after returning home to his mountain village, Mandal Dag.

Mr. Ali was a cousin of Pir Samiullah, a moderate religious leader who took up arms against the Taliban and fought them with a band of followers for three months, killing about a hundred militants.

Mr. Ali banked on the government’s assurances that he would be safe. “He went back because of the stupid claims of the government,” Mr. Amad said. “He wanted to wind up his business.” He owned a transportation company and planned to sell the vehicles, Mr. Amad said.

Mr. Ali was abducted and held for five days, Mr. Amad said. His body was found on Feb. 25.

“There was no skin on his back,” he said. “We had advised him, ‘You shouldn’t go, you shouldn’t trust.’ ”

The Taliban also announced in the local mosque that every family in the village would have to contribute one young man to their ranks, Mr. Amad said.

Local and provincial officials appear to be powerless in the face of the Taliban, and many remain in exile in Peshawar.

Some officials have fled to Islamabad, the capital, some as far afield as London.

Those who have ventured into Swat to negotiate the accords with the Taliban have been shown who is in charge.
The district coordination officer, Kushal Khan, was kidnapped with several of his assistants soon after arriving in Swat last weekend to talk to the militants. They were later released.

In some places, the Taliban have established new training camps, villagers said.

Near Mandal Dag, a resident reached by telephone said that the militants were using a government school in the mountains as a training camp for target practice. Young boys were being taught to hit moving objects by shooting at dogs that were let loose on the firing range, the resident said.

Sadly, this result was not unanticipated. This truce is evidence more of the Pakistani government's weakness, and not so much a sincere effort to calm the Taliban, though I guess that effect was hoped for.

No comments: