Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not So "With Us" After All

From the New York Times:
The [Pakistani] government announced Monday that it would accept a system of Islamic law in the Swat valley and agreed to a truce, effectively conceding the area as a Taliban sanctuary and suspending a faltering effort by the army to crush the insurgents.

The concessions to the militants, who now control about 70 percent of the region just 100 miles from the capital, were criticized by Pakistani analysts as a capitulation by a government desperate to stop Taliban abuses and a military embarrassed at losing ground after more than a year of intermittent fighting. About 3,000 Taliban militants have kept 12,000 government troops at bay and terrorized the local population with floggings and the burning of schools.

The accord came less than a week before the first official visit to Washington of the Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to meet Obama administration officials and discuss how Pakistan could improve its tactics against what the American military is now calling an industrial-strength insurgency there of Al Qaeda and the Taliban militants.

Pakistani officials are calling this a strategy to calm the region, hoping that with less violence a more peaceful solution can be reached. They're not doing their constituents any favors in the process, though:
In legislative elections a year ago, the people of Swat, a region that is about the size of Delaware and has 1.3 million residents, voted overwhelmingly for the secular Awami National Party. Since then, the Taliban have singled out elected politicians with suicide bomb attacks and chased virtually all of them from the valley. Several hundred thousand residents have also fled the fighting.

Trying to make sense of the political morass that is Pakistan is difficult at best.

When the GWoT was first announced, I was surprised at the [mal]administration's readiness to accept help from Pakistan. The country has never been particularly stable, with tribalism and reactionary Islamic sects controlling much of the hinterlands and an intelligence agency reviled in much of the world. For a while Musharraf seemed able to navigate the minefield of Pakistani culture and politics well enough, but his methods in the northwest and his unwillingness to yield to a (moderate, civilian) opposition eventually made his government unpopular enough to force his ouster. Now the civilian authorities in Islamabad seem to be making Chamberlain's bargain with the Taliban and the tribalists.

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