Window on Pak Press: ‘Swat deal not sign of weakness’

18 02 2009

Source: Indiatoday

As the liberals inside Pakistan and the Western governments felt that the Zardari-Gilani government has fallen into the deadly Taliban trap by signing the deal with the militants to allow Sharia law to be imposed in the Swat Valley, the two leaders clarified that it (the deal) should not be seen as a ‘sign of weakness’. The newspapers on Wednesday splashed the meeting between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to review the Swat peace deal and hoped it would pave the way for permanent peace in the whole country.

The Dawn, Daily Times among others said that the two leaders were of the view that the deal signed with Tehrik Nifaz Shriat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) should not be construed as a ‘weakness’ as it was inked to restore peace for benefit of local people.

Daily Times quoting President Asif Ali Zardari said the implementation of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulations 2009 in Malakand division will not affect the government’s policy on the war against terror, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Tuesday. During a meeting with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, he said the agreement between the Taliban and the NWFP government was one part of an overall strategy for peace, a private TV channel reported.

Dawn explained that there have been mixed reactions from different quarters within the country and the international community over the deal. Some have termed it a ray of hope in restive Malakand Division and eventually in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) but some consider it a defeat for the government and security forces who. They say, are bowing their heads before militants and allowing them to implement their self-styled Shariat (Islamic laws) in the area.

According to Dawn, the President told Chinese newsmen that the government was pursuing a multi-dimensional policy in the war against terrorism and using economic, political and military options to eliminate the menace of extremism and terrorism. However, he added that, limited resources were compounding problems for the government.

He was of the view that force alone could not win the war against terrorism. “Maintenance of peace in Fata and the NWFP is the foremost responsibility of the government and providing protection to people is a challenge,” Zardari said.

But the Daily Times said Pakistan has gambled that an offer to implement Sharia in parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat Valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement is likely to embolden the Taliban.

Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that would only benefit Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistanis poses a greater danger. The central government has said the Sharai Nizam-e-Adl – or the judicial system governed by Sharia – would be implemented in the Malakand division of NWFP, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

Islamic Law – Part of Constitution: Dawn also reported that the US State Department said on Tuesday that there’s provision for the Islamic law in the Pakistani constitution and the government’s decision to introduce religious laws in the Swat Valley was not an issue for anyone outside Pakistan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was equally careful when asked to comment on an agreement between Pakistani authorities and the Swat militants that allows for the implementation of sharia in the valley.

She told reporters in Tokyo that the United States was studying the agreement and was trying to understand the Pakistani government’s ‘intention and the actual agreed-upon language. But the secretary warned that ‘activity by the extremist elements in Pakistan poses a direct threat to the government of Pakistan as well as to the security of the United States, Afghanistan and a number of other nations not only in the immediate region.’

The News on the other hand said the US State Department spokesman said, “We are in touch with the government in Pakistan, we are discussing the issue, but that is all I have for you at the moment.”

The News also reported that NATO too has expressed concern on Tuesday after Pakistan signed a pact with TNSM to introduce Islamic law in the Swat valley. “We would all be concerned by a situation in which extremists would have safe haven,” Nato spokesman James Appathurai told a news briefing. Nato heads an international force battling Taliban militants in Pakistan’s neighbour Afghanistan and Appathurai said he did not know if the pact would make its task more difficult. However, he added: “It is certainly reason for concern.”

But peace was still elusive in the militancy-ravaged valley. The Nation reported as many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area here Tuesday, police said. As many as eight people including two assailants were killed and 17 others got injured, many of them critically, when a bomb planted in a car blew up outside the house of Union Nazim Bazid Khel, Faheemur Rehman, in Badabair area on Tuesday, police said.

The blast occurred a day after the NWFP government signed a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants in Swat. The blast damaged outer walls of the Nazim’s house and two neighbouring homes, besides two other cars, however, the nazim remain unhurt.

The deceased included Zar Muhammad, Ali and Qari Khalid, while the names of the killed attackers could not be confirmed till the filing of the report. The attackers were killed when people sitting in the residence of Faheemur Rehman opened fire at them.

The police the local people had apprehended three suspected persons who were being interrogated. The police also said that no one had claimed the responsibility for the attack so far. Around 15 to 20 kg explosive had been used in the blast, he added.

The other side of the story: Meanwhile, Dawn headlined an Associated Press story as “Pakistani Taliban militants publicly flog an alleged narcotic smuggler in Charbagh in Pakistan’s troubled Swat valley”

The story said: Pakistan has gambled that an offer to introduce Islamic law to parts of the northwest will bring peace to the troubled Swat valley, but analysts fear any lull won’t last long and appeasement will embolden the Taliban. Western officials fear Pakistan is taking a slippery road that will only benefit al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but Pakistani authorities believe the alternative of using overwhelming force on people who are, after all, Pakistani posed a greater danger.

The central government has said the Sharia Nizam-i-Adl, or the judicial system governed by Islamic sharia law, won’t be implemented in the Malakand division of North West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, unless the guns fall silent.

The Taliban announced a 10-day ceasefire on Sunday, while the NWFP government has said that while the military will remain deployed in Swat, there won’t be any offensives, only reactive actions.

Amnesty International estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people have fled their homes since late 2007, when the Taliban revolt began in Swat, an alpine region 130 km northwest of Islamabad. Tens of thousands have fled since August last year after an earlier peace deal broke down.

Public Beheadings: Known as Pakistan’s ‘Switzerland’ and once a popular tourist destination, Swat has become associated with sickening sights.

People in the scenic valley witnessed public beheadings and summary executions by Taliban fighters administering their brand of justice.

Bombs have targeted security forces, schools have been torched as part of a campaign against female education, and aid workers running immunisation programmes for children have been chased away by militants.

“If peace comes through this agreement, then we wholeheartedly accept it. After all, we’re Muslims and want Islamic system,” said Mohammad Naeem, a teacher in Mingora, the main town in Swat, whose own school was destroyed.

Analysts, however, see the pact as little more than a tactic to buy time, as the government seeks a firmer foothold in a region over which it had lost control.

They fear reluctance to permanently deal with reactionary forces will lead to greater problems later on. That has certainly been Swat’s history in the last two decades.

“I think this is going to be another blunder by the government,” said Khadim Hussain of the private Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. “There may be a lull for awhile, but I think the government will again be trapped in more fighting. There will be more violence.”

Monday’s agreement was the third such pact signed by Pakistani authorities with Sufi Mohammad, a radical cleric who began a violent campaign for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in the region in the 1990s.

The first agreement provided for the appointment of a Qazi, or an Islamic jurist, to assist a judge in deciding disputes in line with Islamic injunctions, though the jurist’s advice was non-binding.

In the second pact signed in 1999, the advice of the jurist was made binding though it was never enforced.

The latest accord, sets time limits on how long a court can take to decide a case, and establishes a designated appellate bench, meeting two key desires by the people for better justice.

Analysts say the government may be trying to drive a wedge between hardline followers of the elderly Mohammad and even more radical militants led by his young son-in-law, Fazlullah.

Bad precedent? They said: It is a risk.

Even if the laws being brought are far softer interpretation of sharia than the harsh Taliban version, giving ground to religious hardliners would set a ‘bad precedent,’ analysts said.

It could convince the most irreconcilable militants that their violent campaign was working.

“The present Talibanisation is not just a movement for enforcement of sharia,” Asad Munir, a former military intelligence official who served in NWFP and adjoining tribal areas wrote in a Pakistani daily. “The mullahs want power, authority and a defined role in decision-making in the social system of Pashtun society.”

Pakistani authorities have struck a number of deals in the past with militants in the tribal areas, known sanctuaries for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Generally, the violence dies down for awhile and then flares again. Analysts didn’t foresee Fazlullah and his fighters staying quiet for long.

“The militants are not going to give up their control…They will be getting more capability to launch more strikes, more violence if the agreement does not work,” Hussain said.

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40 killed as blast rips through posh Pak hotel

20 09 2008


Source: CNN IBN

Islamabad: A deadly suicide attack outside the high-security Marriott Hotel in the heart of Pakistan’s capital left at least 40 people dead and hundreds injured.

The attack – one of the worst in Pakistan’s history – caused a huge explosion outside the five-star hotel where families had gathered to celebrate Iftar – a celebration after a month of Ramzan.

A reporter at the scene told CNN that as many as 200 people were feared to be inside the building. Television images showed flames and smoke pouring out of the hotel and bodies being carried away.

“The explosion happened as a car reached the barricade outside the hotel,” said a senior police official, adding that it appeared to have been a suicide attack.

The manager of Marriott Hotel confirmed to newsmen that sniffer dogs detected the bomber but he blew himself up immediately after.

The big bang

The blast was the biggest to hit Islamabad and destroyed dozens of cars outside and shattered windows and damaged buildings hundreds of metres away.

The Marriott chain has its headquarters in the United States. Police at the scene said people were still trapped inside. A crane was brought in to try to get people out.

There was a large crater in the road by the hotel’s heavy security barriers. The street was littered with debris and broken branches from roadside trees and acrid smoke drifted in the air.

The hotel has been bombed twice before, the last time was on January 26, 2007 when the Indian High Commissioner was to host a Republic Day reception there.

But the Saturday evening blast was the most serious in the Pakistani capital since the country joined the US-led campaign against militancy in late 2001.

A Reuters witness said he could see fires in at least two places in the hotel and at least 20 cars parked on the street outside had been destroyed.

Television showed bodies being carried away.

Jinxed?

The attack came soon after Pakistan’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, had made his first address to a joint session of parliament, pledging that Pakistan would not tolerate any infringement of its territory in the name of the fight against militants.

Zardari is close to the United States and had earlier promised to maintain nuclear-armed Pakistan’s commitment to the US-led “war on terrorism”, even though it is deeply unpopular.

(With inputs from AP, Reuters and CNN-IBN)