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Surrender in Swat: The state withers away

india Updated: Feb 18, 2009 14:57 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
Surrender in Swat: The state withers away

Surrender. That’s what it is. The Pakistani state has capitulated to the Taliban by allowing the imposition of Shariat in the picturesque Swat Valley, part of the provincially administered tribal areas of the North-West Frontier Province.

And, the charge to buy peace in Swat, termed as the Switzerland of Pakistan, has been led by the two secular parties of Pakistan — the Awami National Party and the Pakistan Peoples Party.

“The fact is that this deal shows that the Pakistan military has in fact been defeated by the militants; that we are now incapable of retaining control of vast tracts of our own territory,” The News said in an editorial on Tuesday.

“This has implications for other parts of the country, where militants hold sway,” the paper said, pointing out that the day may come where the Pakistani state cedes power in more areas to the militants.

It’s not for the first time that the Pakistan government has tried to cut a deal with Sufi Mohammad, now considered a moderate in the face of the Taliban led by his son-in-law, Fazlullah. Previous attempts, too, have come a cropper.

Swat, known in ancient period as Udyana, had a significant Buddhist presence. The Pakistan army, despite the presence of 20,000 troops, has been unable to control the Taliban, which have burnt down hundreds of schools and beheaded people in public.

Some eight lakh residents, out of a total population of 18 lakhs, are said to have quit the Swat Valley. “Swat is a part of Pakistan but no governor, chief minister or the prime minister can venture to go there,” Haji Adeel, ANP leader, told Al Jazeera recently.

A small window to renege on the deal has, however, still been kept open by the Pakistan government, with Information Minister Sherry Rehman suggesting that President Asif Ali Zardari would sign the accord only after peace was restored in Swat.

Rehman warned the deal should not be seen as a “concession” to the militants. “It is in no way a sign of the state’s weakness.”

Signature, or no signature, the future of the deal and the institution of Shariat law, in itself, is a grave setback. Rather than bomb civilians from the air, the Pakistan army should have been able to deal with the insurgency led by Fazlullah and his associates by fighting on the ground.

The deal with the militants, in all likelihood, will unravel. Where will that leave the Pakistan state, army, and the country’s secular parties?