Friday, February 20, 2009

Making a deal with the devil

"The agreement between Pakistan's government and the growing Taliban forces in the country's northwest region cemented a truce between the two sides and gave the insurgents dominance in the Swat region by installing a strict regimen of Islamic law amenable to the militants' authority. The pact was spearheaded by a hard-line cleric sent to the region to negotiate with the Taliban and persuade them to give up their arms."

Read the rest of this story here.

When it was first announced a few days ago, this story about the Pakistani government making a deal with the Taliban struck a chill inside me.

So scary and full of potential for unfolding disaster that I can barely blog about it. The schoolgirls in Swat whose schools were shut down and the women who are now entering a dark phase of life under the Taliban will pay for this decision taken in Islamabad. Two sides: one a resurgent and powerful Taliban that never really went away, the other an embattled government losing control of swathes of its country. And in between the millions who are trapped between these two powers. A government that cannot even hold on to its territory but hands it over to a renegade power should be ashamed of itself. Is this why the Pakistani people elected these folks?

This deal was supposedly struck for peace. Was it? Or was it to shove the lives of millions into darkness so the rest of us don't have to look at them any more? Like putting bandaid on a gangrenous limb. Ultimately this will poison the rest of the country and perhaps the world.

And once the Taliban again becomes the de-facto rulers of a place, will they be content? Will they not want to grow their influence, the cleanse the remaining parts of Pakistan? What will they do its female intellectuals and writers and poets, to its schoolgirls and its college students? Since all is Allah's domain and they are the self-appointed arbiters of religion and conduct, will they recognize geographical borders? How will this impact India in the long run?

India and Pakistan have a blow hot-blow cold relationship anyway but for a while we were at least talking. Our leaders at least made a charade of meeting, of keeping to the stated objective of peace. But the Taliban? If America is the great Satan to them, what is India? India, with its Hindu majority, its secular constitution, and its large Muslim minority....what special demonic significance does India have in their eyes?

I feel like the world has moved on from this news, shrugging it off as a South Asian oddity. But I fear this was a defining momment in history. Who would have thought that a hijacking Indian Airlines plane in Qandahar would have ultimately led to 9/11 and then on to the wars in Afghanistan and the under-false-pretences occupation of Iraq. But it did.

And, this no mere hijacked plane. This is much bigger and I fear for the world. I fear for myself. And I wonder where we are headed. I hope I am wrong. I fear I might not be.


C. said...

ok, and on that cheerful note. Thanks for your peek at the future, it does seem like a frighteningly short-sighted but frighteningly meaningful decision to have made.

BS said...

We're all still trying to understand the ramifications of this deal but a few points to share with you:

1. This isn't the first time Shariah law has been demanded in Swat. Sufi Mohammed has been around for forty years asking for it. They tried it ten years ago but couldn't enforce it and so retreated from their position. It's entirely possible that it could fail again.

2. One of the preconditions of the peace deal is that girls will be allowed to go to school. You should read the BBC's "Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl" (available on the South Asia section of their Web site) to see that the reopening of girls' schools has indeed been announced.

3. One of the interesting things I read was that women were welcoming the Shariah law because they would be able to claim inheritance rights. In the previous non-Shariah rule of law, they were cheated out of it and the male Muslims of Swat were perfectly happy with the status quo.

4. The entire situation came about in Swat because Musharraf did away with the system of political agents, which ruined the rule of law in Swat. The political agents ruled with an iron fist and if you wanted anything done you had to go to them. Once that system was eliminated, the Valley fell victim to the machinations of militants and criminals and petty gangsters who called themselves Talebans in order to scare the local population.

5. If I know anything about my country, the "deal" is not what it appears on the surface. There are things going on beneath the surface on many levels, and I don't think the government has at all given up its intention to destroy the militants. They're just going to resort to more underhand ways of doing it, while enacting the peace deal in order to not keep losing troops and sending civilians fleeing the area in fear of their lives.

I'm vehemently opposed to the Taleban and all they stand for, but I'd wait a little while to make a judgment on how useful/good/bad this peace deal is going to be for Pakistan. It was reported in our newspapers today that the deal has the tacit approval of the US Administration, believe it or not.

Banta said...

And you want me to debate how Pakistanis feel when talking about terrorism. Really?

Jawahara said...

Bina, I guess I am still and will remain skeptical about the Taleban because the deal itself seems to be expedient for everyone involved, except possibly the people who will suffer under their rule.

As far as the US being supportive of the deal...well I read that too...and I remembered that the US was very instrumental in the creation of the same Taliban that it then *tried* to erradicate in Afghanistan.

Of course, there is much hidden and under the surface about this deal. And, after the Soviet retreat Afghans even welcomed the Taliban because they were seen as liberators. Perhaps the NWFP even sees the Taliban in that light again.

However, I do not trust them because they quickly turned around to abuse that trust. In my opinion, ceding territory to what is essentially a radical and terrorist organization is not what a government ought to be doing.

Of course I am not Pakistani nor do I know all the nuances present there. However, I do know that as an Indian and as an American, this new development frightens and concerns me.

Only time will tell when happens but, I for one, am scared about this and see this as a precursor to worse encroachments by the Taliban.

Now that they know that they can essentially hold the government over a barrel if they cause enough instability, what's to stop them from further trying to destabilize the Pakistani government? And to go back on any promises they've made? I don't know how long those schools will remain open.

Like many others I will be keeping tabs on this, and I hope for all of us that I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

I am not Pakistani, but I was run out of the country 22 Nov 1979, when the 'students' burned the Embassy. I'm always curious about what others think of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

BS said...

Banta, were you addressing me? Not really sure what you mean there.

Jawahara: For now, the peace deal seems to be bringing some kind of normality to the region, and a ceasefire has also been called in Bajaur. Schools have been reopened, although there's only a trickle of students. The deal seems to have put the militants on the back foot for now, because they were demanding "Shariah" and now that the government has said they'll grant it, the militants don't quite know what to do. The mullah who's been making hate speeches on the radio also got his illegal FM station blocked for the first time yesterday while he was making one of his speeches, thank God!

The critics of this deal say that the Taliban will use this time to regroup and hit again at the government. However I hear they're running out of supplies and food. Stay tuned, and I'll try to keep you updated with whatever I hear about the situation.

BS said...

One more thing: the deal doesn't endorse the region being ruled by the Taliban. In fact the government has stipulated that it will be the one to choose the judges for the Shariah courts and that rule of law must be enforced in Swat. So far it seems to me that the government has a pretty good plan and the Taliban are beginning to realize they've been outsmarted. At the very least Sufi Mohammed and Fazlullah, the father-son duo that you might have read about, are being played off against one another, which will weaken them both. We hope anyway!