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Pakistan must fight its war

Pakistan must fight its war

Author: Lisa Curtis
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 8, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/174600/Pakistan-must-fight-its-war.html

Unless Islamabad responds with force, Taliban will win

Developing and implementing an effective US policy toward Pakistan is one of the most complicated yet important foreign policy challenges the Obama Administration faces. Pakistan is in the midst of societal and political shifts that are challenging its leadership's ability to maintain stability and even raising questions about the potential for an Islamic revolution in the country. Pakistan has long suffered from ethnic and sectarian divisions in different parts of the country. But the more recent threat from a well-armed and well-organised Islamist insurgency pushing for the establishment of strict Islamic law in the country's North-West Frontier Province adds a new and more dangerous dimension to the country's challenges. Although the collapse of the Pakistani state may not be imminent, as some have recently argued, the Government's surrender of the Swat Valley is a major victory for Islamist extremists seeking to carve out pockets of influence within the country.

Islamabad's decision to allow the implementation of a parallel Islamic courts system in the Malakand Division of the NWFP (including Swat Valley) demonstrates the weakness of the Pakistan Government and military in the face of an onslaught by Taliban-backed extremists seeking to take over parts of the province. The Government's capitulation to the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi, led by Sufi Mohammad, followed the group's campaign of violence and intimidation, which included the bombing of dozens of girls' schools, murder of women who declined to stop work, and public beheadings of those accused of spying.

The Pakistan military had deployed some 12,000 troops to the area for 18 months in 2007 - 2008 before surrendering to militants in the region, which apparently then numbered around 3,000 to 4,000. The surrender of Swat to the militants occurred, despite the overwhelming vote in favor of the secular political party Awami National Party in the February 2008 elections, demonstrating the people do not support the extremists' agenda but are merely acquiescing in the absence of support from the Government to counter the militants.

The closing of the civil courts in Swat Valley several weeks ago has belied the Pakistan Government's claim that the establishment of Islamic courts in the region would not usurp state authority. In fact, Sufi Mohammed declared in a recent interview that democracy is not permissible under Shari'ah law, revealing the militants' ultimate objective of undermining Pakistan's democratic institutions nationwide. Pakistani officials also gloss over the fact that the establishment of a parallel Islamic courts system will have dire human rights consequences for average Pakistanis - especially women and girls - in the region. The pro-Taliban militants have already destroyed numerous girls' schools and engaged in brutal public punishments to instill fear in the population and quell dissent from their harsh interpretation of Islam. In early April, Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Ali Chaudhry raised several questions regarding a public flogging of a young woman in Swat, which had been aired on Pakistan's major media outlets, prompting many Pakistanis to express outrage over worsening human rights conditions in the region since the Taliban take-over.

Washington has repeatedly warned Pakistani officials about the dangers of appeasing the militants through peace deals that confer legitimacy on them and help them consolidate control over ever-increasing parts of the province. Pakistani officials have rejected Washington's concerns, accusing US officials of hyping the threat and/or misreading the local ground situation.

Events over the last two weeks, however, may have finally awakened some Pakistani officials to the downsides of the Swat peace deal. Just one week after Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari approved the Swat Valley peace agreement following passage of a parliamentary resolution urging him to do so, the Taliban took over the neighboring district of Buner. Media reports indicate local residents of Buner initially were prepared to counter the Taliban but were discouraged by the Government's agreement to concede Swat. A local politician told reporters that "When the (Central) Government showed weakness, we too stopped offering resistance to the Taliban."

The Taliban subsequently agreed to pull out of Buner district on April 24 after Pakistan deployed paramilitary troops to the region. The same day Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani sent a warning to the militants by declaring that "The Army's pause was aimed at giving reconciliation a chance and the militants must not take it as a concession…we will not allow the militants to dictate terms to the Government or impose their way of life on the civil society of Pakistan." The statement was a positive first step in clarifying Pakistani policy toward the militants but it must now be followed by sustained and consistent action based on a comprehensive civil-military plan to counter the militants' objectives.

In the final analysis, it will be up to the Pakistani military to decide how much of the country will be ceded to the Taliban. But Pakistani military leaders rightly acknowledge that they need the public behind them before they can take on the Taliban militarily. Pakistani civilian leaders have been too slow to awaken to the threat before them and too willing to sacrifice their constituents to the brutal policies of the Taliban.

(Lisa Curtis is Senior Research Fellow with The Heritage Foundation, Washington, DC. Excerpted from her testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representati ves, on May 5.)

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