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VIEW: Swat Deal: Profitable Merger or Hostile Takeover?

PUBLISHED IN THE POST AS Swat deal: a hostile takeover? SEP 22, 2008

When a house came under rocket attack in Peshawar cantonment on 19th May, the incident went without serious comment because after all, these acts are commonplace enough in 2008. What made it significant for me was that the very house had once been my home. That would be the year when Soviets had all but withdrawn from Afghanistan and the only close call then had been an airspace incursion from the Afghan side of the border. But, what happened in the confrontation between the fearless Afghan pilot and military officials present that day is no where as alarming as what happened 19 years later with the fearsome pro-Taliban and the State officials elected today.

A peace treaty in war torn Swat has a nice ring to it. Does a pacification strategy towards militancy mean that a country which stood up to Communism capitulated to Fascism? Not so, say government officials who hasten to draw a distinction between peace loving militants all set to renounce violence over hard core elements bent on carrying out so called ‘jihad’ in neighbouring Afghanistan and openly loath to giving up claim to the killing fields of Pakistan. But a great deal hinges on the successful implementation of this 4-pronged strategy where the tribal elders have been recruited as intermediaries between State and subversive elements: domestic stability, global security and similar cheering notions.

Here is what people can expect in the coming days with a 3 stage agreement that began with a ceasefire on May 9, 2008, followed by the headline that “Taliban ban NGOs, women education in Orakzai Agency”. Briefly, the agreement promises truce with Pak Army and security forces: women allowed to work: polio vaccinations permitted, music shops and barbers free to operate, foreign militants expelled, private militias disbanded and display of arms prohibited. In short, everything people are entitled to as free citizens of any sovereign State. In exchange for the release of captured militants, withdrawal of Pak Army troops and imposition of Sharia – the Islamic law in Swat and Malakand.

Roughly translated, this means that local Taliban will let women work; ‘Let’ being the operative word here; only if they are forced into the veil. Else, they probably will be sorted out in the grand traditions of the jirga. So we can safely assume that this Sharia is the kind that dragged our neighbour back to the Stone Age. Then there is the proviso that government schools and hospitals stand to be monitored and ‘erring employees’ dealt with severely, Taliban style. reveals that a local Taliban Commander’s permission is required to send a female to school. Such is the agreement, accompanied by thinly veiled threats by Taliban ordering the State to ‘O-behave’ and stay the course or incur the wrath of an ‘organized power not to be easily thwarted’. Finally, the ones who wrecked Pakistan’s internal security may sue our current President for nothing less than crimes against humanity, or rather against their people.

And here is what we may expect elsewhere in Pakistan. Nothing. A key aspect of the contract has already been breached with a renewal in the cycle of violence in Islamabad and continuance of bombings and suicide attacks during and after the ‘peace’ agreement in and around the tribal belt. By early June music shops started winding up business in Kohat, an attack on the President’s life was foiled and 4 policemen were ambushed by signatories of the peace treaty. To date, the Capital remains on high alert.

Despite such open violations, the army pullout went ahead as per schedule, release of militants has already begun and the tribal supervision meant to ensure compliance appears questionable. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister draws attention to the spirit behind the deal which in his words is neither capitulation, nor compromise but peaceful coexistence. Perhaps the Taliban did not get the memo. When Ben Franklin stated that there never was a good war or bad peace, he was clearly not referring to us.

Now Pakistanis may not have voted in any Taliban sympathizers, the entrepreneurial spirit of Taliban seems to have found a new home nevertheless. The story with the fugitive from Afghanistan had a happier ending for he surrendered unconditionally; the MIG-21 now sits in a museum in Karachi and its pilot went on to pursue his American dream. Not a bad deal.

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