Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dancing with the Devil

Pakistan political bosses take their Machiavellian lessons seriously. Earlier this week they simply handed over the beautiful valley of Swat [in the North West Frontier Province] to the Taliban on a platter. They say – if you can’t fight them, worm upto them in the hope that they will rot away someday. Under the fresh deal –- cracked over cookies and tea -- by Zardari’s men and the clerics led by Mullah Sufi Mohammad, Swat, a princely state till 1969, will now have the Sharia [Islamic law], implemented by the close-minded Taliban.

Though Swat’s borders are not contiguous with Afghanistan, the Pakistan Taliban is known to have very close ties with their bearded brothers across the non-existent Durrand line. For many the resurgence of Taliban will mean nothing more than ritualised lynchings and whipping. For the NATO troops, patrolling the badlands of Afghanistan it is alarm bells. No wonder the international community [read the US mostly] is aquiver -- like an angry cock. Neighbors like India see red.

Swat itself is a region inhabited by extremely good looking Pashtoons and Kohistanis with blond hair and blue eyes [the place was a stop-over for many invading armies – like those of Alexander the Great. Some scholars attribute the beautiful genes to the king of Macedonia’s armies]. 2,300 years later the area has become a fiefdom of rabid Mullah’s. Sufi, the white-beard – for instance – is the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, another creature who is more famous for his mountain side mobile radio station – preaching hell-fire and damnation -- earning him the nickname Mullah Radio.

So Sufi – boss of the rather longish-named party Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat Muhammadi [TNSM] was recently released from jail where he cooled his heels for six long years. [The old man had apparently herded thousands of his followers to fight the US – over the craggy hills -- to the neighboring Afghanistan in 2001 when US attacked the country -- and got them all killed]. He is the peacenik in black turban now.

The plan is that in return of the imposition of Shariat in Swat, Sufi will persuade his son-in-law [the radio dude] to make peace, who in turn will encourage Baitullah Masood, the head of Taliban in Pakistan [accused of masterminding Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, a charge he denies] to drop arms. There is one common thread binding all the beards – they owe their unflinching allegiance to Mullah Omar [one eyed boss of the original Taliban, who was last seen escaping on a Honda moped post 9/11].

The brouhaha of the Mullah's cannot be really passed off as some major peace deal. This is no truce. These are Daedalean power games. The surging of Taliban is a very bad omen. Let loose, these guys can prove to be very thorny. What is happening now is that each side is trying to buy time. We'll soon be back to square one.

‘But pray we had elections in this area, I asked G Parthasarthy [ex-diplomat, author and former consular to Pakistan], and these people returned the liberal Asfandyar Khan’s party [ANP] to power. How come this shift?’ ‘Pat, Partasarthy [badly beaten up during his diplomat days in Pakistan] said, the Pakistan Taliban’s fear is total in Swat. They've driven elected legislators away from their homes’.
I checked the reference. For once, the hawkish security strategist, was right.

The Taliban are phantoms of the hills. The Pakistan government is dancing with the devil! It should watch out for the steps.