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'Pakistan had no choice but make a deal in Swat'

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: February 19, 2009 20:11 IST
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"Jameeni haqeeat alag hain. Swat ke log to aman aane se bahut khush hai! (The ground realties are different. The people of Swat valley are very happy to have peace!)," Rahimullah Yusufzai, the distinguished Pakistani editor based in Peshawar, told He was referring to the Pakistan government's 'peace deal' with hardliners that has created an international uproar.

Yusufzai is a long-time observer of the Taliban movement and a prolific commentator on the tumultuous events in the lawless tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Resident editor of The News daily in Peshawar, he told in a telephonic interview that the people of Swat are celebrating the peace deal because they will not be killed, attacked, uprooted or displaced in the ongoing confrontation with various shades of the Taliban and the government.

Yusufzai says the peace deal is primarily about the security of people living in the Swat valley.

Wednesday's brutal murder of Geo TV reporter Musa Khan has been extensively covered in the Indian media. contributor and Geo TV newscaster Hamid Mir told a press conference in Swat on Thursday that the tragic killing is aimed at disturbing peace in the Swat valley.

According to Yuufzai, "In the last year, four journalists have been killed in Swat. Nine journalists have been killed in the tribal area. We are on the frontline. One journalist died this year in a suicide attack; one was killed in a crossfire. Things are difficult. We are in the wrong place at the wrong time!"

"If you don't want the Taliban," Yusufzai said, "then defeat it! But if you can't do that what is the government's option? This deal is a difficult deal. One cannot guarantee its success, but it is for peace in the region."

People living in the Swat valley want peace with or without Sharia laws.

The strict implementation of Sharia laws worries critics as does the possibility of the Taliban taking physical control of the region, which is located just 160 km from Islamabad.

Yusufzai says the deal is not stopping children from going to school. "Why do critics get upset about Sharia laws? Islamic law has been always there in the North West Frontier Province. People have been following it since (then prime minister) Benazir Bhutto allowed it in 1994. It is not new or brought in with the peace deal. This area was unique and has been following its own unique ways."

India has repeatedly said that it does not distinguish between the good, bad and ugly Taliban.

But the ground reality is that the government of Pakistan has no choice but make the not-so-fine distinction to save its people getting killed as collateral damage when its army fights the Taliban.

The Obama administration in Washington, DC has decided to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Some critics have said it is possible that the peace deal with a milder faction of the Taliban suits the American plan in Afghanistan since the Pashtuns on the Pakistan side will remain pacified to some extent at least.

While the deal with the Taliban has dominated news coverage in India for the last three days, a commentator based in Islamabad told that the Indian audience is receiving a mix of facts, lies and propaganda.

Actually, the peace deal is not with the Taliban, it is with a defunct and banned outfit older than the Taliban. The Pakistan government's peace agreement is with Maulana Sufi Mohammad, the amir of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi. Sufi's outfit was defunct, but he has revived it with this peace deal and made it legitimate. The TNSM is older than the Taliban and came into existence in 1992.

Sufi has been an anti-government agitator for many years.

Yusufzai does not deny the inherent dangers of the peace deal with the Taliban because Sufi's son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, who heads the Pakistan faction of the Taliban, is fighting a war against the Pakistan army and its paramilitary forces.

The controversial deal is now on a weak wicket because it is believed that Sufi does not have much influence over his son-in-law. What Sufi can bring to the table will depend on Fazlullah's readiness to "surrender."

"The success of the peace deal depends on many factors," says Yusufzai. "How do you reconcile with the Fazlullah-kind of leaders? But I have a little bit of hope for the success of the peace deal. But not too much hope"

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi