Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf tried peace treaties with the Taliban in the frontier provinces to no avail. Now the democratically-elected government in Islamabad wants to duplicate his mistake. The Gilani government has essentially ceded authority to shari’a courts in the Northwest Frontier Province, allowing the Taliban to rule under Islamic law, and agreeing to withdraw government forces:
The government agreed to impose Islamic law and suspend a military offensive across a large swath of northwest Pakistan on Monday in concessions aimed at pacifying a spreading Taliban insurgency there.
The announcement came after talks with local Islamists, including one closely linked to the Taliban.
The move will likely concern the United States, which has warned Pakistan that such peace agreements allow al-Qaida and Taliban militants operating near the Afghan border time to rearm and regroup.
Amir Haider Khan Hoti, the chief minister for the North West Frontier Province, said authorities would impose Islamic law in Malakand region, which includes the Swat Valley. Swat is a one-time tourist haven in the northwest where extremists have gained sway through brutal tactics including beheading residents, burning girls schools and attacking security forces.
Apparently, Gilani wanted surrender so urgently that he didn’t even require the Taliban to hand over their weapons. He wants to fulfill what the government calls a popular mandate to impose shari’a law in the territories in exchange for an end to fighting. Pakistan will withdraw its military in the area before requiring any more than just a few days of peace — no weapons surrender, no trials of rebels, nothing other than less than a fortnight of quiet.
Musharraf tried this in late 2005 and 2006, with disastrous results. Without having to worry about military pressure from within Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda focused their efforts on Afghanistan and NATO. Not until the Taliban became so emboldened as to stage the Req Mosque standoff did Musharraf reverse himself and start attacking Taliban and AQ locations, and even then only half-heartedly.
The Pakistani government has a tough fight. The Taliban enjoy a not-insignificant amount of popularity in Pakistan, and any democratically-elected government will find it difficult to pursue a military-only policy against them, although one against AQ will be less problematic. Pakistanis want some level of accommodation, apparently, with the extremists. The problem is that shari’a is not an accommodationist policy, nor does Pakistan do anything for its sovereignty when it accedes to shari’a courts in place of secular, independent courts of justice based on democratically-determined law. The Taliban demand by force what they cannot win through elections and the democratic legislative process, and a surrender on those terms is a huge mistake for a country attempting to establish its writ in difficult areas.
The only reason I can see for this retreat, in fact, is to argue that Pakistan no longer has sovereign interests in the area, so as to allow NATO attacks at will. I doubt that’s what Pakistan intended, but NATO can certainly make a good argument for it, as it reflects reality.