Pakistan takes risk with Islamic law
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won't last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban.
Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, afterall, Pakistani posed a greater danger.
The central government has said the Sharia Nizam-e-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic sharia law, won't be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.
The Taliban announced a 10-day cease-fire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won't be any offensives, only reactive actions.
Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km (80 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
Tens of thousands have fled since August last year after an earlier peace deal broke down.
Known as Pakistan's "Switzerland" and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.
People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.
Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by Islamists.
"If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. Afterall, we're Muslims and want Islamic system," said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.
Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.
They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat's history in the last two decades.
"I think this is going to be another blunder by the government," said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.
"There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence."
Monday's agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region in the 1990s.
The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist's advice was non-binding.
In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.
The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.
Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.
It is a risk.
Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to the Islamists would set a "bad precedent," analysts said.
It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.
"The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of sharia," Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas in the wrote in The News daily.
"The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society." Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn't foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.
"The militants are not going to give up their control... They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work," Hussain said.
(Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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