by Don L. Durivan
(Swans - August 10, 2009) The failure of the February 2009 Swat peace accord has had enormous implications for Pakistan, but the mainstream Western press has provided scant coverage about either its content or its failure. This is especially true in America, where major networks like CBS, NBC, and ABC provided nothing more than thumbnail coverage of the accord.
While these networks did not seem to assign blame, certainly the common feeling in Western circles is that the Taliban and its allies are solely responsible for the failure of the accord. No sooner had audiences absorbed that per the accord the Taliban in Swat were going to implement Sharia law than we learned that they were marching into Buner, "a mere 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad," a report repeated many times over with maps provided. Some Western sources assigned blame outright. For example, Luke Baker of Reuters on May 12 reported that "While the army essentially had no choice but to go on the offensive after the Taliban broke a peace accord...." (1) (Mr. Baker did not respond to this writer's request for evidence).
The Taliban is quite expert in encouraging disdain upon itself, given the gruesome behavior of some of their fighters, including beheading corpses and leaving them in public squares, their oppression of human rights, especially for women and girls, and because, simply, they are "the enemy." (At the same time, we and our allies resist discussing the effects of F-14 and F-16 fighter jets, Predator drones, helicopter gunships, or heavy artillery upon them or those who get in the way of our "intelligence.")
But is there a more comprehensive picture in terms of the demise of the accord?
Recent events in neighboring Afghanistan provide a reminder that truth is the first casualty of war, and that blame-the-Taliban simplicity might not be warranted. When villagers and local Afghan officials indicated that well over 100 civilians, including many children, had been killed in the May 4th-5th American aerial attack within Farah province in neighboring western Afghanistan, American generals denied the locals' claim about the extent of the deaths (citing perhaps 30), blamed the Taliban for it, and announced that it would do its own investigation. In early June, Geoff Morrell of the Pentagon essentially corroborated the claims of the Afghan villagers and government officials that at least 130 civilians were killed. (2)
The fact is that both sides to the Pakistan conflict blame each other for the demise of the accord. (3) It very well may be true, as some Pakistani reports have it, that the more radical members of the Taliban, known within Pakistan as the "Tora Bora Group," (4) were unwilling to accept the terms of the accord because it did not go far enough for them, and so resumed violence, without Taliban members whose interests were narrower able to stop them. However, the major broker for peace for the Taliban, Maulana Sufi Muhammed, known to be reconcilable, accused Pakistani President Zardari of insincerity in implementing terms of the agreement two months into the process. Might he have had a point?
Let's look broadly at the context.
Zardari has straddled two American administrations. It was well known to him that the Bush administration was strongly opposed to any agreements between Pakistan and the Taliban. He heard very strong language from Obama on the campaign trail (even suggesting nuclear weapons at one point) regarding attacking militants in tribal areas of Pakistan.
Nonetheless, the provincial government for Swat agreed in mid-February to sign the accord with the Taliban. Endorsement at the national level was to wait. The process of the accord was underway then, about one month into the Obama administration.
On March 27th, President Obama gave his speech on the new "Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy." He explained that he ordered a review immediately upon entering office, and that "We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments." Among many points raised, Obama stressed the need for Pakistan to "root out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders," but he also put significant emphasis upon development projects, in order to have military and civilian projects complement one another. Clearly, President Zardari knew as a result of the earlier consultations that significant aid dollars had been proposed for his country and that there would be "benchmarks" that must be achieved. In the speech, the president even cited the "bipartisan bill" sitting in Congress, co-sponsored by Senators Kerry and Lugar, authorizing $1.5 billion for Pakistan each year for five years. (5) It was abundantly clear from Obama's speech what was expected of Zardari militarily, but the writing was on the wall much sooner. The Obama administration was adamantly against accords with the Taliban.
Three weeks later, in mid-April, the Pakistani Parliament approved the accord, with President Zardari finally signing on the heels of the Parliament. Significantly, Zardari's Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira had made the statement that the president would sign the accord, "only after complete peace and serenity is restored in Swat. (6) Juan Cole has pointed out that the victorious parties in the 2008 parliamentary elections favored negotiations with the militants within the Taliban, (7) so domestic political factors likely helped lead Zardari to endorse the accord.
Only three weeks later, the week of May 6th, President Zardari and Afghan president Karzai visited President Obama, and virtually at the same time, the all-out "Swat offensive" began, with 15,000 troops taking on the Taliban, accompanied by F-16s, long-range artillery, and helicopter gunships in a massive assault.
Are we to seriously believe that Zardari planned to implement this accord, given these events and their timing? Implementing an accord of this nature is painstaking, often with fits and starts, as Pakistan's own experience shows. Simply consider some of the chief terms of the accord: the Taliban's right to the imposition of Sharia law in Swat, the relinquishment of heavy weapons like rocket launchers and mortars to the government, the army's eventual withdrawal from the region, the government's agreement to take action against thieves and kidnappers, the plan to exchange prisoners, the halt of attacks by the Taliban on music and barber shops, a denunciation of suicide attacks, and cooperation with the government in its vaccination of children against polio or other diseases, among others. (8)
It would take significant time and careful monitoring to seriously address most of these issues even individually.
In addition, no country undertakes an offensive involving 15,000 military without plenty of advanced planning. The Obama paymasters spoke, and Zardari responded. Not only was an enormous aid package dangling before Zardari's eyes, but The Daily Times of Pakistan reported that the Obama administration had itself threatened to send missiles into Swat if Zardari did not assault the Taliban. (9)
It is safe to say that Zardari was no more or less genuine about the accord than the Taliban. The overall context suggests real disingenuousness on the part of Pakistan's ruling elite. There may have been a tacit understanding from the Obama administration that if he signed, he would not implement it with any seriousness, thus effectively scuttling it.
The repercussions from the accord are widespread. Nearly 3 million Pakistani residents fled in an Iraq-style exodus, given the ferocious fighting. Some UN relief staff died, and the U.N. pulled back some of its relief efforts accordingly. Doctors Without Borders has indicated that local health clinics have closed due to security problems, leaving organizations like itself to provide the help it can with mobile clinics. (10)
Only the Pakistani military knows what the Swat Valley looks like after the onslaught, since reporters have not been allowed into Swat during the offensive. The army's claim that it is just protecting journalists from harm likely represents a portion of the truth -- it does not wish for media exposure of the heavy-handed-style assault, an assault style that some security experts have said is, in the end, the last type of approach that should be taken in counter-insurgency. It cannot be that only Taliban have died in large numbers. The nature of the attack has caused indiscriminate killing of civilians, at a time when all blame for such types of killing has been laid on the doorstep of the Taliban. It has raised alarm bells within Pakistan, to the point that some generals have warned about the repercussions.
In late June, the UN humanitarian envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban warned that millions of displaced Pakistanis might "die slowly" from the humanitarian crisis. (11) Journalist Jason Ditz has stated that the Pakistani administration was apparently very willing to have such enormous numbers of civilians displaced, much as it was the previous year in Bajaur. The extension of the onslaught into South Waziristan has caused hundreds of thousands of others to flee, and these havens have been far too ill-prepared for them. The "planning" for such catastrophes by the Pakistani government, and with it the Obama administration, has been poor. It was only after the Swat refugee crisis erupted that the Obama administration decided to extend $200 million to Pakistan for aid for these victims.
It is not surprising that the Taliban has responded to the Swat offensive with a flurry of terror-style bombings, only a small portion of which get reported in the West. Those that have include the deadly attack against a police headquarters and office of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Lahore, and the horrendous blast at the well-fortified Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar. In just one day in late June, the Taliban and its allies killed twelve Pakistani soldiers in North Waziristan.
In 2008 the Rand Corporation completed a thorough study on counter-insurgency for the Department of Defense, in which it concluded that the vast majority of insurgencies that have ended have done so not through military means alone, and especially not heavy-handed military onslaught. In fact, nearly one-half of the insurgencies that ended did so after negotiations took place. (12) President Zardari, the Taliban leaders, and the elephant in the room, the Obama Administration, should take the study to heart. The odds are reasonable that eventually the parties will meet at a negotiation table, but this time both sides and their allies will need to show a great deal more honor if prevention of civilian victimization is to be upheld. The consequences of the failure to expose this truth and those to come will reinforce it.
And to the Obama administration, the consequences of the onslaught might suggest the phrase: "Be careful what you wish for."
Notes (Retrieved between June 29 and July 2, 2009.)
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