Is Pakistan creating a safer haven for extremists with new deal?

February 17, 2009

(ChattahBox)– Pakistan struck a deal Monday to impose Islamic law and suspend a military offensive in the former tourist haven of Swat, raising concerns that it will create an even safer haven for Islamist extremists.

The provincial government in northwest Pakistan announced the deal after it met with Islamists led by Sufi Muhammad, who has long demanded that Islamic, or Shariah, law be followed in this conservative corner of Pakistan. As part of the deal Muhammad agreed to travel to Swat and discuss peace with Maulana Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat Taliban and Muhammad’s son-in-law. The hard-line cleric Muhammad was detained in 2002 after he sent thousands to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but Pakistan freed him last year after he agreed to renounce violence. If it’s not scary enough that Muhammad was dispatched by the government to convince the Taliban to stop fighting as part of the deal, he arrived in the Swat Valley’s main city of Mingora to a hero’s welcome.

The Swat Taliban said Sunday they would observe an initial 10-day cease-fire in a show of good faith.

Needless to say NATO which has 55,000 troops across the border in Afghanistan, many of them have come under attack by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters from Swat are concerned:

“It is certainly reason for concern,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels about the latest deal. “We should all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have a safe haven. Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.”

Pakistan’s inability to re-establish its authority in Swat has embarrassed the shaky civilian government and the military. However, Pakistani leaders insisted the deal was not a concession, but an attempt to fulfill demands by locals for a more efficient justice system.

“Those who want to live in a peaceful world will take steps like ours, and those who want to live in a violent world will take opposite steps,” Northwest Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said in defense of the agreement. “The need of the hour is to put water on fire, not to fuel it.”

Some 2,000 militants are believed to operate in the valley, and, in defiance of the presence of some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops, they have already set up their own courts, meting out punishments in line with an exceptionally harsh brand of Islamic law.

Similar deals struck in the past have failed, including one last year in Swat that security officials said the insurgents used to regroup and rearm.

A senior U.S. Defense Department official, said “it is hard to view this as anything other than a negative development.” He requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of relations with Pakistan and because he was not authorized to speak on the record.


One Response to “Is Pakistan creating a safer haven for extremists with new deal?”

  1. Opinion: War in Afghanistan May Be Lost in Pakistan : ChattahBox on April 3rd, 2009 10:45 am

    […] within Pakistan retain an interest in keeping Afghanistan unstable and the Taliban active. Recently Pakistan signed a deal with the Taliban that has strengthened the militants’ grip of power. Pakistani authorities in early March […]

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