Pakistan's extremist triumph - By Ahmed Rashid
The government has caved in to the Taliban in the Swat Valley to avert more violence.
By Ahmed Rashid, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2009
Writing From Lahore, Pakistan -- Maulana Sufi Mohammed, a radical cleric who was freed last year after spending six years in jail for leading 10,000 Pashtun tribesmen in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, has begun a new campaign. He is leading a peace march through the strategic Swat Valley in an attempt to persuade his son-in-law, Maulana Qazi Fazlullah, to accept the government's offer of a cease-fire and enforcement of an Islamic system of justice in the valley.
The fact that Mohammed has embraced the government's offer is a sign of how fully Islamabad has capitulated to the demands of extremists in the region. And the fact that the peace deal has not yet been accepted by Fazlullah, who leads the Swati contingent of the Pakistani Taliban and is closely allied with Al Qaeda, is a sign of how radicalized some of the region has become.
Fazlullah's men have fought bloody battles with the army over the last two years, finally driving it out and taking control of most of Swat last year. The fighting has led to about 1,200 civilian deaths and the forced exodus of an estimated 350,000 people out of a population of 1.5 million. Fazlullah has blown up 200 girls schools, hanged policemen, set up Sharia (Islamic law) courts and established a parallel government.
Now, rather than order the army to retake Swat, the Pakistan People's Party government in Islamabad led by Benazir Bhutto's widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, and the Awami National Party (ANP), a Pashtun secular party that runs the provincial government of the North-West Frontier Province, have capitulated to the Taliban's demands in order to avoid more violence.
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