Swat Truce

February 19, 2009

From the LA Times:

“In a significant concession to Islamic militants battling the central government, Pakistani authorities Monday agreed to allow the imposition of Sharia, or Islamic law, in a onetime tourist destination just 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

The move, the main provision of a cease-fire formally announced Monday by both sides, is likely to set off alarm bells in Washington. The Obama administration has urged Pakistan’s struggling civilian government to move decisively against Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants in tribal areas along the Afghan border, where Sharia is already in effect, and elsewhere in Pakistan’s volatile northwest.

The decision by Pakistan’s government appeared aimed at appeasing followers of a radical cleric, Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, who in late 2007 seized control of the scenic Swat Valley. For months, Faz- lullah’s fighters have been terrorizing residents of Swat by beheading police officers and burning down girls schools, to which they object on religious grounds. Death threats are routinely handed down by the militants, who use illicit radio broadcasts to dictate Taliban-style social mores.”

So the Pakistanis seem to be cutting their losses in the country’s northwest by offering concessions to Islamic militants.

Fiasco author and journalist Tom Ricks, however, sees a positive side to this. He thinks this is part of a larger, and possibly winning, strategy on the part of the Pakistan government.

“I know it looks like a setback but I suspect this might be a smart move. Give the people of Swat sharia law, and see how they like it. Meanwhile, bolster your security forces in the area so they can pick up the ball when the Taliban has sufficiently alienated the populace. Risky? Sure. But better than losing Swat altogether.”

I’m not sure I share his optimism.


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