Islamabad’s decision to allow the implementation of a parallel Islamic courts system in the Malakand Division of the Northwest Frontier Province demonstrates the weakness of the Pakistan government and military in the face of an onslaught by Taliban-backed extremists seeking to take over parts of the province. The government’s capitulation to the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) in Swat Valley following its campaign of violence and intimidation, which included the shuttering of dozens of girls’ schools, murder of women who declined to stop work, and public beheadings of those accused of spying, should raise alarm bells in Washington about the Pakistani state’s inability to stop spreading Talibanization in the province.
The Obama administration has reacted cautiously to the news of the Pakistani Swat deal, which sends a signal of weakness in the region precisely at the time the U.S. needs to demonstrate resolve against the forces of extremism and terrorism. Washington’s prevarication on the take-over of the Swat Valley by pro-Taliban forces undermines U.S. policy in the region and raises the critical question of why the U.S. would send troops to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, while standing by as Islamist extremists gain ground in neighboring Pakistan.
Former President Musharraf entered in to peace agreements with the Taliban in the tribal areas in 2006, which resulted in a drastic increase in militant cross-border activity into Afghanistan and the strengthening of the Taliban’s influence in the region. An earlier peace deal in the Swat Valley also fell apart and resulted in the strengthening of the TNSM. There is little reason to believe this Swat agreement will have a different outcome. Unless and until the Pakistani civilian and military leadership work together to develop a bold strategy to counter the spreading militancy, it could be a matter of time before the provincial capital, Peshawar, falls under the sway of Taliban forces, essentially bifurcating the nuclear-armed state.