Pakistan resumes peace talks with Taliban amid heavy offensive
To bolster tenuous progress, the Army must push on to drive the Taliban out of Swat Valley, according to some analysts.
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A defining facet of the present military operation against the Taliban has been the political consensus that was achieved between the ruling Pakistan People's Party and the opposition PML-N of Nawaz Sharif. This has given the military the legitimacy it lacked during previous military strikes, according to Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at RAND Corp.Skip to next paragraph
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But, she says, the basic issue of what the government can do to hold an area after recapturing it remains unsolved.
"This is not a stable game – how many times does the Army go in and win and then later retreat?" she asks, adding that the government has a poor track record of looking after progovernment elements who are later left to the mercy of the Taliban.
The provincial government of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), for its part, is still hoping to hold on to a peace deal with the Taliban in Malakand District, of which Swat, Lower Dir, and Buner are a part. In the deal, struck in February, the government agreed to accept sharia, or Islamic law, in the region – a longstanding demand of the militants – in exchange for a cease-fire.
Government officials held a 30-minute meeting with Sufi Mohammad in the town of Timergara on Friday for the first time since talks were suspended following the launch of the military operation.
"Everything is being done to end militancy. Everything is being done for peace," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of the NWFP, told reporters after the meeting. Haji Adeel, a senior vice president of the ruling Awami National Party, later told the Monitor that the government would be ready to open Dar-ul-Qaza (sharia) appellate courts within 24 hours.
"If the militants still continue to hold arms and patrol after that, Sufi Mohammad has assured us that they will be taken as outcasts and no funeral prayers will be held for them if they are killed," says Mr. Adeel.
Much now depends on how well Sufi Mohammad is able to rein in the militants, according to Mr. Khan. "We have to wait and see whether the new courts are acceptable to Sufi Mohammad, and whether Sufi will be inclined to lean on the Taliban to lay down arms – and if he does, whether they listen to him," he says.
A cease-fire would also raise the question of whether the government would give amnesty to Taliban fighters. "I see reprisal attacks against Taliban once they lay down their arms – in line with the Pashtunwali [the honor code of Pashtuns]," says Khan.
If peace is finally established, the government must turn its attention to good governance and policing if it wishes to hold on to its gains, says Talat Hussain. "Next comes the pressing need of governance: You need to build your police stations, reform your courts, give compensation to victims. These are the questions we must be concerned with."
On the question of whether an assault on Swat is likely, Talat Hussain believes all the chess pieces are in place. "[The Taliban] have been put on notice – the Army has practically surrounded the Swat Valley. I would be surprised if the battle is not taken into the heart of Swat. If they resist, they will feel the full force of the Army; if they are willing to lay down arms, there will be less violence."