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Swapping Swat for Peace?

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Message Siddharth Ramana

Last November when then President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan, I had written "it can be argued that the immediate concern for Musharraf's drastic measure can be traced to the parading of 48 soldiers of the Pakistan, who surrendered to the militant forces they were fighting in the Swat valley earlier this week. Musharraf, who rose to power in 1999 on the basis of his uncontested popularity among the armed forces, was now losing his support base."

It is this reason- the support of the armed forces which has pushed the hand of the Pakistan government in endorsing a deal with the armed rebel forces in the region. It is also a significant cause of consternation between the multiple power centers which exist in Pakistan- the Army-ISI, the Prime Ministers Office and the Presidents office. Furthermore, the deal erodes regional security in a manner underestimated by Pakistan.

While the army was more than happy to see the initiation of a truce along with the embattled people of the region, it raises serious implications on the veracity of Pakistan's claims of being sincere to the war on terrorism. With renewed flip-flops emanating out of Pakistan's offices over the investigations into the November Mumbai carnage, it has also brought to fore the differences between the Prime Minister who is perceived to be sympathetic to the army and the President who is seen to be pliable to international (Read US) pressure.

Some of the recent developments in the region would be of significant concern to monitors of Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy. In the aftermath of the execution of the Polish engineer by the Taliban elements in the region, the Pakistan government faced immense international censure. To save face, especially considering that another foreign hostage in the region was a Chinese, Pakistan decided to cave in to the demands of the kidnappers and released dozens of Taliban prisoners. China is a vital economic ally of Pakistan and with an upcoming state visit to Beijing, Pakistan was under considerable pressure to secure his release.

The rise of the Taliban in the region is coupled with increasing doubts in the minds of the international community over the sincerity of Pakistan. It was reported by the New York Times, that senior US officials confirmed a Pakistani link to the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul and to the Mumbai carnage, which Pakistan strenuously denied any association with until recently. It also comes in the backdrop of a similar handgun and grenade attack on multiple government offices in Kabul. The attackers were reportedly in touch with handlers in Pakistan.

The truce agreement spells an immediate end to hostilities in the region and greatly improves the haven infrastructure desired by Jihadists operating in the region. The imposition of Shariat (Islamic law) to the region should not be viewed as a regularization of an existing entity, but be seen in context of the stated goal of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. The TNSM which was banned by Musharraf in January 2002 has its leader at the fore for signing the truce. Maulana Sufi Mohammad has stated clearly that he opposes western style democracy and openly advocates for Jihad. His views are eerily similar to that of Mullah Mohommad Omar, the head of the formerly Afghanistan based Taliban.

As mentioned, the deal underlines the major power struggle being witnessed in Islamabad. For example, National Security Advisor Mehmud Durrani who is considered close to President Asif  Zardari was removed by Prime Minister Yousuf Gillani, when he commented that the sole surviving terrorist from the Mumbai onslaught was a Pakistani. His sacking is suspected to have resulted from opposition by the Army chief General Ashraf Kayani. The gunmen's nationality was finally confirmed by interior minister Rehman Mallik, another individual close to Zardari. Furthermore, while the Prime Minister wholly supported the Swat truce agreement, Zardari gave it a grudging approval calling it an interim agreement.

Zardari's interaction with Richard Holbrooke after the truce agreement is an indicator of his interest in keeping the Americans abreast of developments. In addition, to seeking to allay American fears, he also addressed Indian concerns over the deal by outlining that the Taliban is a threat to all three countries. Zardari consistently espouses himself to be supportive of the American motifs in the region and strongly opposes the religo-political fundamentalists who have connections in the country's intelligence and armed forces, going to the extent of highlighting that he lost his wife to such elements in the country.

Zardari's mellowing of tone in relation to the Swat Taliban could possibly be to his overtly pro-American standing. His standing in the army is not seen highly, and this also stems from his ready acceptance of India's demand to interrogate the country's intelligence chief, which was since denied. In addition, remarks by US Senator Dianne Feinstein in which she disclosed that a highly unpopular US missile campaign against terrorists in the region was based out of Pakistan, would have seriously embarrassed Zardari. It would easily have been the decisive factor in addressing the military's antagonism in the operations it is carrying out in the region.

Interestingly though, the internal schisms would also shed light to a theory behind the Mumbai attacks. The attacks according to many a policy maker was to drag India-Pakistan into a war and ease up the military operations in the west of Pakistan. Pakistan's military would gladly go into a battle with India than with its own brethren. However, if this was to be the case, the role of senior Pakistani policy makers or influential leaders cannot be discounted. The puzzle of the attacks may just be unraveling in the shadow of this deal.

The United States has reportedly responded to the truce with concern and another report states that the gambit of missile strikes within Pakistan has been enlarged by the US President. With reports that there would be an increase in troop levels in the region, it is absolutely imperative that the government of Pakistan come crystal clear on its objectives in Afghanistan and how the truce would affect supply lines into Afghanistan.

Afghanistan faces an uncertain future, with NATO allies reluctant to force an increase of troop deployment and dynamic events in Central Asia resulting in a degree of friction among traditional US allies and Russia. An example of this is the closing of the Manas U.S air base in Kyrgyzstan.

What would further complicate matters internally for Pakistan, with serious international ramifications is the way the Balochi separatists would view this deal. Balochistan has been an area of serious under current tensions and it has come to the fore in recent years.

The Balochi nationalists who resent the Punjabi dominance in the social strata of Pakistan society would look at the deal as an opportunity to assume significant concessions from the establishment. Balochi's view the Taliban as a rival and have alleged that large parts of their land have been usurped by the Taliban in connivance with the Punjabi dominated government. It is important to note that the Pakistan army too is dominated by Punjabis and therefore would be an identifiable target of anti-Punjabi sentiments.

The reason why Balochi separatist movements within Pakistan can trigger an international calamity is because the establishment has consistently accused India of supporting the Balochi national movement and has launched particular vitriol against Indian consulates in Afghanistan as a source of arms and training. In addition, the security of Balochistan and its port in Gwadar is of great interest to the Chinese who are developing the naval facility for Pakistan there. The infusion of a Pakistan-China versus India proxy war over Balochistan has ripe elements of ensuring that the Americans and other regional powers are bound to be brought into the picture.

Therefore, Swat has implications beyond its regional territories. The US and its allies need to influence Pakistan into reorganizing and purging its ranks of people sympathetic to the Taliban's cause and help deny a safe haven to gunmen and religious fanatics. It is widely believed that history repeats itself, sweeping an issue like this under garb of peace for the populace of the region is what was echoed when the first signs of the Taliban arose in Afghanistan.

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Siddharth Ramana is an MscEcon in Intelligence and Strategic Studies. A student of peace and conflict studies, he is presently pursuing an additional Masters in Counter Terrorism (Israel). He has worked as a research assistant for the Institute of (more...)
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