Honey, I Shrunk Pakistan
What are the repercussions of the Pakistani President's recent peace deal with the Taliban?
- Successive Pakistani governments are making a habit of surrendering territory and sovereignty to the Taliban in exchange for nothing.
- Pakistan has recently returned to democracy and civilian rule, and yet parts of it are in the hands of authoritarian anti-democracy militias.
- Deals that the Pakistani government makes with the Taliban are a comprehensive strategic victory for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
The Pakistani government has now made a deal with a Taliban franchise called Tahrik-e-Nafiz Shariat Muhammadi (Movement for the Establishment of Muhammad’s Shariah) that ends military conflict between them and the Pakistani army and brings “Islamic law” to the region called Swat and its neighboring districts.
The Swat area is in the north eastern part of Pakistan’s troubled North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), a region where both the Taliban and Al Qaeda have, according to US intelligence sources, reconstituted.
The government of Pakistan is spinning this deal as a smart move to combat extremism. By giving the extremists what they demand — Shariah law — it hopes to deprive them of a cause that gives them legitimacy, purpose and public support.
The rest of the world, on the other hand, is profoundly disquieted. Western powers see the ceasefire and peace settlement as a misguided initiative that will provide Al Qaeda and the Taliban the opportunity and freedom to regroup and retrench further.
The Taliban style insurgency is recent to Swat. Though the Tahrik has existed since the 1990s, the insurgency has engaged the Pakistani military and terrorized civilians since 2007.
In the past few months alone the Taliban have banned education for girls, burned and blown up over thirty schools, beheaded over thirty ordinary citizens who were seen as moderates, and destroyed the public library and State Museum in Mingora (Swat’s capital).
Pakistan already has very low literacy levels and this campaign against education is a shortcut to underdevelopment.
Realizing their dire predicament, many of the residents of Swat have already fled from the area.
Even though the Pakistani government is projecting its latest move as a victory, in reality it is a complete surrender to the Taliban.
The Pakistani government has both de jure and de facto conceded sovereignty over part of its territory to the Taliban. Now it is not the will of the Pakistani people, but the whim of Taliban that is sovereign in Swat.
Successive Pakistani governments are making a habit of surrendering territory and sovereignty to the Taliban in exchange for nothing.
General Musharraf lost North and South Waziristan in a similar deal a few years ago, and now President Zardari has provided the Taliban with a foothold in striking distance of Islamabad. Pakistan is slowly shriveling away.
I guess the next time Benazir Bhutto’s ghost visits her dear husband, President Zardari, his one line report will say — “Honey, I Shrunk Pakistan!”
Deals that the Pakistani government makes with the Taliban are a comprehensive strategic victory for the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
One, they ensure that the over hundred thousand Pakistani troops in the region are no more a threat to them or to their goals. By securing their eastern front through peace deals with Pakistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are free to focus their entire firepower on U.S. and NATO forces.
Two, the deals give the Taliban and Al Qaeda safe havens where they can train, recruit, and fund raise. These provinces give them a strategic depth against western forces. Now they have safe homes in Pakistan to retreat to and resuscitate in, so they can return to fight another day in Afghanistan.
But the most dangerous consequence is the loss of land. Taliban now control vast territories in the South East of Afghanistan and North and West of Pakistan. They are steadily carving out a Talibanistan — a state perpetually at war — that will nestle between Afghanistan and Pakistan and prey on both of them for territory, fighters and resources.
Pakistan has now become a strange and complex entity in which contradictions not only endure, but also seem to thrive. Parts of it are stable and rich (like Punjab) while others like the NWFP are in complete chaos.
It has recently returned to democracy and civilian rule, and yet parts of it are in the hands of authoritarian anti-democracy militias. It is an American ally and yet many of its citizens are at war with America. These contradictions are fault lines that will eventually lead to an implosion.
Unless the Pakistani government and the military — with the help of the United States and regional powers like India and Iran — can find a way to reintegrate Pakistan into a cohesive modern state, it will implode and become the epicenter of a violent storm that will engulf South Asia with global repercussions.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding