PROVINCIAL authorities in the Swat Valley in northwestern Pakistan struck a peace deal with local Taliban franchisees this week, and in it the government agreed to extend Islamic law in the area. Since then, commentators around the world have pretended to know what the agreement means. Some suspect a "hidden hand," whether it be the intelligence agencies or the United States. In a conspiracy-prone Pakistan, some even talk of an inside deal between the army and the militants - even as they ignore the hundreds of casualties that the army suffered in Swat. Never mind that facts may interfere with these pet theories.
In reality, only the locals know what the deal really means. I recently received the following account from a young woman from the area:
"For months and months the military has been trying to quell the militants. Two days ago their failure was accepted when the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province went into talks with Mullah Sufi Mohammad and accepted some things. We don't yet know what those things are but the first promise is peace. Peace on what grounds? We don't know.
"Today the party of the Mullah announced that 'democracy' is un-Islamic. It is too late. We have lost the battle against the militants. We have seen day by day how government and army have [been] weakened, how they have finally been reduced to talk and to deal. Nobody is accountable for the thousands killed, for the closure of schools, for the beheadings of men and women. Nobody. Someone said to me the other day - 'Don't complain, because the one you complain to will be your enemy.'
"We no longer can turn [to anyone] here to complain. We now have to think about how to survive this. We now have to give up much of what many of us believe in - tolerance, peace, educated women, and freedom."
She believes the North-West Frontier Province is lost. And she questioned whether President Obama understands the extremists. "He seems to think that these people can be contained within their land, or [any] land. He thinks there is a meeting point, a dialogue possibility. Those who think that giving the militants their haven will contain them - well, the rest of the country and the world will see what this will lead to. This is not the end, it is only the beginning."
I can see her point. We seem to be reviving a deal that fell apart last year, a deal that the army opposed at that time. It fell apart in a matter of days, and the first army sortie resulted in some 18 dead soldiers. Will the army want to re-enter the fray if this deal falls apart? Who will claim responsibility for the inevitable failure?
Recall that in 1994 Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's government agreed with the same militant leader, Mullah Sufi Mohammad, to allow him to run some districts of Swat and Malakand according to his convoluted view of Islamic law. He thus got legitimacy and grew into a force that now has brought a new government to the table.
Pakistan's constitution already contains provisions protecting against un-Islamic laws. Why then does the country need an agreement with violent extremists to ensure Islamic laws? And who will pronounce on these laws? The militants? And if the army is to remain in a "reactive" mode, as a government minister explained, will they stand by and watch Taliban justice being meted out to people?
Who will ensure that girls' schools will be rebuilt? Who will protect those who refuse to wear a beard or a burqa? Who will disarm the militants? Certainly not the Taliban.
The Swat deal gives territory in Pakistan proper to a militant minority, against the wishes of the majority of Muslims in what was once a valley of peace and quiet. If the militants gain this foothold, the stain of extremism will spread further into Pakistan. My young correspondent may be right: This is not the end, it is only the beginning.
Shuja Nawaz, author of "Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within," is director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council.
During the tumult of 2008, the talk in Washington and in Islamabad turned to the need for the United States to have a relationship with the people of Pakistan rather than with any single leader or party. Indeed, only by garnering the support of a majority of Pakistanis can the United States leap over the yawning mistrust between these two countries and help Pakistan's government become stable.
Two months into 2009, we are waiting for that change to occur. President Obama has rightly focused attention on Pakistan, sending his powerful and highly favored representative Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to take on the difficult job of resolving regional differences and restoring stability to an embattled country. Ambassador Holbrooke will need help from both Washington and Islamabad to get to the roots of regional problems.
As our forthcoming Atlantic Council Task Force Report on Pakistan stresses, Washington needs to find a way to provide a healthy dose of financial aid to Pakistan, based on a thorough discussion and agreement with Pakistan on how that aid will be used to improve the lives of people across the country and not just in the borderland near Afghanistan. Call it conditionality or "tough love", it is important to be clear about the objectives of such aid, for the financial climate in the United States will not allow any more blank checks to be issued. On its side, Pakistan has already taken many steps to assure the international financial community that it is ready to get its economic house in order. But much more needs to be done: Improving the tax administration, broadening the tax net to capture agricultural income and capital gains, strengthening the legal system to provide cover for investors, especially from abroad, and removing corruption from the highest levels of government. Too many ministerial appointments to its cabinet (which now has 83 members) are seen by the coalition's multifarious member parties as cash cows for their party coffers.
Pakistan could also end the current "cash-for-hire" scheme under which its army was sent into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The U.S. promised to reimburse its "non-NATO ally" for the costs of making this move, and the more than $10 billion in aid given for this purpose is often used as a political stick to beat Pakistan during any discussion of aid to that country. But the U.S. reimbursement scheme barely covers the marginal costs of the army's entry into FATA, and the political costs for Pakistan have been very high, creating a huge backlash among the population of the region as well in the rest of Pakistan. Inside the Pakistan army there is simmering resentment at all levels about the manner in which the military aid and reimbursements are handled. It would in the interest of both countries to end this scheme, and for Pakistan to truly take on the war against militancy as its own war. Then, if the U.S. is serious about helping Pakistan, it would do so by meeting Pakistan's needs for financial aid and equipment (including helicopters and training). Let Pakistan do its own job, for its own sake, not because the U.S. pays it to do so.
U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan are a source of great unhappiness inside Pakistan. The United States needs to find a practicable way of allowing Pakistan to manage the drone operations and to take the lead in identifying and attacking militant targets inside its borders. Fears about transferring sensitive technology to Pakistan could be addressed by joint operations of drones from Pakistani bases. U.S. and Pakistani handlers could "fly" the drones carrying Pakistani markings and be responsible jointly for their upkeep. If Pakistanis call the shots on final actions against foreign militants and eliminate or limit collateral civilian damage, then they will truly be fighting their own war and not "America's War."
On the regional level, Pakistan can and should play a greater role in helping Afghanistan rebuild its military institutions. Increasing collaboration between the two armies would lead to joint operations against the insurgents, while removing the mistrust that has kept Afghans and Pakistanis from working with each other. For example, Afghanistan needs to rebuild its air force something that Pakistan has experience with: it has helped launch a number of air forces in the region. It could become a partner of the United States in speeding up the re-creation of the Afghan air force. Not only would the training be faster and cheaper than with US help alone but also the longer-term effects of close cooperation could lead to mutually understood practices and combined operations. Over time even Indian involvement in this effort could become feasible; both India and Pakistan once assisted Sri Lanka, during the early days of its insurgency.
While the Obama administration seeks to re-energize the engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan, it will need to find new ways of making friends and helping reduce regional animosities. Throwing money at problems is one way. Changing peoples' minds about each other may be a better way of achieving peace and stability in that region.
Shuja Nawaz is Director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States and a member of the Council's Task force whose report on Pakistan will be released later this month. He is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army, and the Wars Within (Oxford 2008) and FATA: A Most Dangerous Place (CSIS, 2009). He can be contacted at www.shujanawaz.com
Thank you for visiting my site. I hope you will come back often to share views on South Asia, Pakistan, its army, Central Asia, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and counter insurgency warfare. We’ll talk about politics, economics, society, history, art, and the culture of Pakistan. And about Pakistan’s relationships with India, Iran, Afghanistan, China, the Gulf, Middle East, Central Asia, and the United States.
You can also follow my recent work at the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council of the United States by clicking on South Asia Center at www.acus.org
Based on 30 years of research and analysis, this definitive book is a profound, multi-layered, and historical analysis of the nature and role of the Pakistan army in the country’s polity as well as its turbulent relationship with the United States. Shuja Nawaz examines the army and Pakistan in both peace and war. He then draws lessons from this history that may help Pakistan end its wars within and create a stabler political entity. Oxford University Press 2008.
FATA—A Most Dangerous Place
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