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A Bargain with Terror By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan once was a popular tourist destination. Now it is Taliban-controlled territory, where beheadings are commonplace and schools for girls are regularly burned down. And the situation is about to deteriorate further.

In exchange for what will likely be only a temporary peace, the Pakistani government has agreed to allow the Taliban to enforce Muslim Sharia law in Swat. Pakistan insists that the agreement is conditional on the Taliban ceasing all terrorism, but the move is already being hailed as a victory by the militants. “Our whole struggle is for the enforcement of Shariah law,” Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said. “If this really brings us the implementation of Shariah, we will fully cooperate with it.” The Taliban has thus gotten exactly what it wanted, without having to give up anything in return.

That’s precisely why international reaction to the latest agreement has been almost universally negative. Iqbal Haider from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan accuses the Pakistan government of capitulating to the Taliban which, while greatly outnumbered, nevertheless managed to wrest control of the Swat Valley after a year of fighting. “We are appalled by such an appeasement of extremist and militant forces who are hell-bent upon destroying Pakistan and conquering Pakistan,” said Haider.

The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said the unrest in Swat was a reminder that the United States, Pakistan and India face an “an enemy which poses direct threats to our leadership, our capitals and our people.” Furthermore, since the Taliban already controls approximately 70 percent of nearby Afghanistan, this capitulation on Pakistan’s part will only serve to strengthen the Taliban’s morale and resolve.

Andrew Bostom told Front Page that, “ceding the so-called ‘lawless tribal areas’ to Taliban control and their even more draconian version of the Sharia, is the ultimate tragic outcome of Pakistan’s capitulation to internal, unreformed theo-political Islamic forces.” Bostom explains that Pakistan’s clerics always opposed the idea that the new nation would be a secular state, and had “lobbied for its new constitution to decree into existence an Islamic state.” Accordingly, the 1956 Pakistan constitution declared that the new country was to be an “Islamic Republic,” adding that any new law “repugnant” to the Koran and the Hadith (the sayings of Mohammed) would be unconstitutional. Under Ali Bhutto Islam was declared the state religion, and the Council on Islamic Ideology was established to “bring secular laws into line with Shariah.”

These attempts to pacify the nation’s fundamentalist clerics simply inspired them to intensify their demands. By 1974, Bhutto had alienated his peasant and working-class constituency and faced a new radical movement, the Islamic Jamaat-e-Tulba, who were mortal enemies of the country’s more moderate Ahmadiyya strain of Islam. Bhutto arrested over 800 of their leaders and their followers, but later, Boston notes, “he caved in and declared the Ahmadiyya sect outside the pale of Islam.” However, this did nothing to prevent the ultimate outcome: Bhutto was ousted by Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s third military ruler. Given this history, Pakistan’s establishment clearly understands what’s at stake, says Bostom.

Or does it? Although many had hoped President Zardari’s government, would dismantle the Pakistan that Zia-ul-Haq constructed, “this is a pipe dream,” Bostom says. For decades, he says, citing scholar Praveen Swami, Pakistan has been “based on the dual primacy of the military and the mullah, resting on the pillars of religious chauvinism and hatred for India. If President Zardari’s handling of the fallout from the Mumbai carnage is any indication, the forces he represents have neither the will nor the resources to reverse history. Islamabad, post-Mumbai, isn’t in denial. It is simply driven by the reflexes imprinted by the history which gave birth to it.”

An academic consultant with the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC, Salim Mansur agrees that the current situation can be traced back to Pakistan’s troubled birth. “What all of this means,” he told Front Page, “is the unraveling of the artificially bounded state of Pakistan by Britain in 1947. The process of unraveling has been given a mighty big push by the Pakistani elite,” which has a long history of “treachery and double-dealing.” The country once before dissolved in 1971,” explains Mansur. “Now what remains of Pakistan is at the knife's edge of further dissolution.”

It was the Pakistani elite itself, Mansur says, that created the Taliban in the first place. The same elites never intended to live up to its post-9/11 alliance with the United States. Their part of the bargain with the U.S., says Mansur, was to “clean its own backyard. Since the elite had no intention of doing any serious cleaning, the Taliban infection basically spread deep inside the country and in particular swept the region bordering on Afghanistan, the area known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).”

Mansur predicts that Pakistan as the world knows it will dissolve, sooner rather than later, depending in part upon when American and NATO forces pull out of Afghanistan. He believes that the North West Frontier Province, of which Swat is a part, “will likely detach itself from the existing arrangement within Pakistan and join Afghanistan.” This “nightmare,” he says, which has been envisioned and feared by Pakistan’s elite since 1947, “can no longer be postponed.”

Meanwhile, Mansur explains, the West must decide how to respond to the “reality of nuclear weaponry in the region.” Mansur also predicts “another Mumbai” terrorist assault and an ensuing “regional conflagration” as Pakistan “dissolves.” “The Pakistani elite made their own reckless choices of fraud, double-dealing and sheer mendacity,” says Mansur, “and the time is now close at hand for paying the price of these choices.”

This critical time has not brought out the best in Western leaders, who seem incapable of fully explaining to their war-weary constituents why they are still fighting in Afghanistan, especially during the present economic climate. If Pakistan can capitulate to the Taliban within its own territory after a year of pitched battles, what is to prevent America and its allies from abandoning a fight thousands of miles away? How the Obama administration answers that question will have a great impact on the state of security in Pakistan and beyond.

Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.

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