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Two divergent perspectives on the Swat deal with Taliban – by Kamal Siddiqi and Ansar Abbasi

Two perspectives on the Swat agreement with Taliban. The first one is by a pro-Taliban right-wing journalist Ansar Abbasi. The second op-ed by Kamal Siddiqi offers a critical, dialectical analysis of the situation on ground.

Does the Swat deal promise peace or more conflict?
In the national interest

Monday, February 23, 2009
by Kamal Siddiqi

The writer is editor reporting, The News

The deal between the government and the Tehreek-e-Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi has drawn a variety of responses from within the country and abroad. Stakeholders have welcomed the move in some quarters while in others there has been outright condemnation. Our well meaning but clueless politicians have hailed it as a major political initiative of the president. One wonders whether this is indeed the case.

Generally, many people in the valley have welcomed the deal. Most have done so not on the merit of the agreement but more in the hope that it will bring peace. The people of Swat are shaken. The daily toll of beheaded bodies in Green Chowk in Mingora, which has been renamed “Zibah-Khana Chowk,” continues. There are unsubstantiated stories of assault of women in parts of Swat, which only add to the sense of anger and frustration.

People do not talk against the Taliban or the extremists in public for fear of being targeted. The area has become a state within a state. Some allege that the army targets civilians more than it does the Taliban. These are things on which one cannot comment much, only wonder. There is fear and there is anger.

In reaction to the peace deal, many people not living in the valley have rejected it, saying that the government has capitulated to extremist elements. They say that this may have a snowballing effect on the area as more and more parts of the NWFP are given to the Taliban or other forces. The deal, they argue, will bring more violence in the long run.

While there can be much debate on the merits of entering into any such agreement, one thing that is clear is that the peace deal is not an open-and-shut affair. The government wants us to believe that it is the beginning of the state of normalcy to the area. One can only hope that this is so.

There are many questions that remain unanswered. The NWFP chief minister has said in a press conference in Peshawar that it was a historic deal and one that is the first step to normalcy. He was clearly upset with the questioning of the reporters. It seemed he too was not altogether convinced of the merits of this move. For his part, President Zardari has said that it should not be seen as a sign of weakness for the government. But some weeks back we had been told that there would be no compromise. And yet, now we seem to be seeing the same.

As things stand it seems that the answers are not forthcoming. For starters, why has the government entered into a deal with a group that has been advocating and allegedly practicing violence as a means to an end for so long? Were these persons part of the senseless killings that took place there over the past couple of years? Should we be negotiating with those who promoted violent means while all along we have said we will talk only to those who talk peace? What message are we giving to the peace-mongers?

In this deal that has come to be, the families of victims, and there are quite a few, are within their right to ask the government how those who killed someone’s near and dear ones will be brought to justice. They would like to know what the status of these murders will be and will they ever be investigated to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Take, for example, the killers of Shabana, a wedding dancer. Her throat was slit and her body left as an example to others. Will her murderers be allowed to go scot free? Hundreds of policemen, government servants and private citizens were shot, injured, terrorised or killed. What happens to those who did this?

This whole peace agreement sets a bad example for others if there is no provision to bring to justice those who bombed, killed, attacked and maimed. In this manner, it encourages others who are following the same violent path and who, inevitably, will also end up signing deals with the government. The deal gives them a clean slate.

The issue of killings and accountability for actions past and present should have featured in the final agreement. Another point is why the government negotiated from a position of weakness when all along it has been claiming that it was in a position of strength. The wording of the agreement clearly shows that the government has gone out of the way not to offend the other side and committed to things that should not have been conceded.

Another pertinent matter is whether the TNSM has the ability to deliver in the areas it has promised. Will Maulvi Sufi Mohommad be able to convince Maulvi Fazlullah to lay down his arms? Does the TNSM have the strength to silence the Taliban outfits in the valley, and, if not, how will it help the government do so?

From the tragic killing of our colleague, Musa Khankhel, and the other attacks and bombings following the signing of the agreement, what seems apparent is that not everyone is on board. The killing of Musa Khankhel is a clear signal to the government that there are still many within Swat who want to escalate the violence. Will we let them do so?

For the government, the biggest issue is not only whether the deal can be honoured but what happens if it breaks down. Who guarantees such deals and what are the penalties for violations? Even more pertinent is the question as to who would punish the parties that break the agreement and what would be the parameters of the punishment.

Then there is the issue of the implementation of the Islamic laws and the appointment of judicial officers. Merely changing the titles from Judge to Qazi will not satisfy the hardliners. Who will arrest, sentence and accord the punishment. This is all up in the air.

For Pakistanis, the more pressing issue is how the government has allowed a different system of justice within the country. One can only wonder at what this will do to further complicate the search for justice for the common man. It is clear that while the stipulation of a time frame will help ensure speedy justice, how will this judicial system work within the larger framework? These are questions that the people of Swat would want to ask.

Another logical worry for the people of Swat Valley is whether the peace will last. For most Western countries as well as regional powers, there is a fear that this deal is yet another attempt by the extremists to buy time and cut their losses. As a bonus, they have managed to secure a sweetheart deal from the government.

One can ask, and rightly so, what the long-term objectives of the militants and the religious extremists are. If we look at the history of these deals, it is clear that they are a stopgap arrangement, in many instances, a tactic to buy time or to focus on another operation. There are fears that this deal will allow the militants to focus once again on cross-border activities.

What we do know is that the army operation, despite the collateral damage, was hitting hard at the militants. But at the same time, there were many in Swat who were saying that things were not as clear as they are made out to be. Who do we believe and whose side are we on?

Finally, what is the game plan of the government? It says one thing but does another. We will continue to suffer from such ad hocism or will we follow a more long-drawn-out option which will give us results in many years, but these would be such that are long-lasting and durable. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, an important player on the NWFP political scene, says that the proposed implementation of Shariah laws in Swat conveys to the world that legislation is not acceptable through democratic process but through use of force. That seems to be the crux of the matter. (The News)