Pakistan's peace with terrorists hits another snag: shari'a

The leaders of the new Pakistani government insist that only peaceful negotiations will end the strife with radical Islamists in the frontier areas of western Pakistan. The Taliban has other ideas about peace and coexistence; they don’t like them. A leading Taliban military commander has issued a threat to men who shave their beards, warning of violent consequences:

A Pakistani Taliban leader has warned local tribesmen to grow beards within the next two months in accordance with Islamic teachings or face harsh punishment, residents said Monday.

The threat came amid an apparent increase in incidents of militants trying to enforce Islamic Sharia law in Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, where the new government is trying to make peace with hardliners.

“Men must grow beards and stop shaving within the next two months,” residents quoted senior Taliban commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad as telling dozens of people at a mosque in Khar, the main town in Bajaur tribal district.

Beards were mandatory under the harsh Taliban regime which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 as part of a strict morality code that also made women wear the all-encompassing burka and outlawed music and other entertainment.

“It is un-Islamic to shave beards. Harsh punishments will be awarded to all violators,” added Mohammad, the central vice chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistan Taliban Movement) and also a Muslim cleric.

Not surprisingly, the Taliban and its leaders feel freer to issue — and enforce — such strictures in the area that Pakistan has all but conceded to them. Nor has it bought any peace for the residents of Waziristan and NWFP. AFP reports that “activities” against hair salons and music stores have increased since the military has stopped its operations against the Taliban.

Sovereignty requires a government to exercise its authority over that of militias and renegades. The abdication of those responsibilities in Waziristan and NWFP calls into question whether these territories can actual be considered Pakistani. That was one of the underlying principles of the Bush Doctrine after 9/11, and why Pervez Musharraf always understood that he had to at least give some effort in fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in these regions. Otherwise, the US could consider Pakistan as having withdrawn from the area and our hot-pursuit needs would then take precedence.

The new Pakistani government has obviously not learned much of the lessons of appeasement since the 1930s. If they continue to refuse to recognize the danger of their policy and allow these lunatics loose in the frontier regions, the US has to make clear that we do not consider ourselves bound by that decision.