According to a recent Yahoo news update:
The government (of Pakistan) agreed to impose Islamic law and suspend a military offensive across much of northwest Pakistan on Monday in concessions aimed at pacifying the Taliban insurgency spreading from the border region to the country’s interior.
In my opinion, the devil is really in the details and the implementation of this agreement. I have mixed feeling on this: It is hard to see how the situation in Swat can be controlled only through the military means; there has to be a political dimension. This is what the U.S. is also learning the hard way in Afghanistan where there is already a talk of having some sort of adjustment with “moderate Afghan Taliban”.
In an ideal world, you would have hoped that Pakistan army would have gained the upper hand in Swat and then they could have negotiated from the position of strength. Unfortunately this is not the case. Despite several attempts, the army could not make any significant gains in Swat. Part of this is due to bad strategy and partly due the nature of guerrilla-warfare. Pakistan army was never trained to fight a counter-insurgency; fighting against India is what the focus has been so it does’t come as a surprise that it didn’t perform very well.
As far as their strategy goes, it was based primarily on using gunships and (artillery) shelling against suspected militant hide-outs. This approach is not very conducive to counter-insurgency because it leads to a lot of collateral damage. As the U.S. experience in Iraq shows, your mission in such a situation must really be to “secure the population”. This was the fundamental change in strategy that U.S. Gen. David Petraeus made but such a change requires putting a lot of boots on the ground, taking a lot more causalities and better intelligence. Unfortunately the Pak army was unwilling and incapable to take this approach which resulted in the bloody Swat stalemate.
Against this backdrop, the agreement can offer a way out if government can play its cards correctly. It should also be noted that this is not the first time that Swat will be under the so-called Shari’s law. This was the case for decades when Swat/Dir region was part of the princely state and life was governed by “Customary law”. The elected representatives of the Swat region have also been in favor of incorporating some populist militant demands such as Qazi courts and quick and simply justice with a 6 months deadline to process all cases.
One can hope that by incorporating the populist demands and a willingness to understand and work with local sensitivities, the authorities can gain credibility with the local population and take some of the wind out of the insurgency’s sails. I am under no illusion that the likes of Molana Fazlullah will be willing to give up their weapons and stop fighting but hopefully such a agreement will isolate the hard core extremist elements from the deeply conservative local population and deprive them from one of their main arguments. It is a lot easier to deal with insurgents when they don’t enjoy widespread local support.