Pakistan’s Deal with the Devil

A few years ago, anytime the Pakistani government negotiated some sort of ceasefire or peace agreement with extremist militants in the FATA, the Western governments fighting those same militants in Afghanistan condemned the moves as undermining efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, instead proposing enlarged military operations, complemented by targeted missile attacks from American drones, to defeat the insurgency. None of those peace deals ended up holding up, but despite limited increases in the pace of military operations, neither the FATA nor Afghanistan is any more stabilized than it was then, and arguably less so. So it’s hard to say who got the better of that argument.

Now Pakistan is again on the verge of a new ceasefire and potential peace deal, but this time in the previously calm Swat disctrict. Part of the deal will allegedly impose Islamic law on broad swathes of the district.

I suggest keeping a close eye on how this deal turns out, because despite American protests to te contrary, it’s the sign of things to come in Afghanistan. If an acceptable deal means public lashings in town squares in exchange for no bombs directed at Islamabad, while American drones continue to create resentment in Pakistan, then we’re in for a very long and hard haul in the region. If, on the other hand, there’s some sort of meaningful stability within acceptable limits of Islamic law, then in effect you’ll have the model of what’s being proposed a year from now in Afghanistan. And if nothing comes of it but a momentary lull in the fighting, then we’ve got the can kicked down the road a bit with no real clarification on any ultimate outcome.

I’m inclined to believe we’ll see something in between the second and third outcome, depending on how much government writ the final deal ultimately imposes in Swat.

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