In order to understand how the latest Malakand deal has been reached one needs to look back into history. The latest deal with Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM), to implement Sharia law in Malakand division of the NWFP, is not the first of its kind that the government of Pakistan has made with the local Taliban. An important part of this link goes back to the release of Maulana Sufi Mohammad, chief of the banned TNSM who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 2002. He was arrested on 20 November 2001 upon his return from jihad against US forces in Afghanistan. After serving six years in prison, Sufi Mohammad was released in April 2008 as part of a deal, which the government made with him, to buy peace in the region. As part of this deal, Sufi Mohammad agreed that TNSM would respect the writ of the state in the Malakand region and denounced the elements that did not respect the state and its institutions in a six-point agreement. In return, all the cases pending against Sufi Mohammad were withdrawn and his prison term was suspended.
While talking of the latest Malakand deal, it also needs to be remembered that at the time of his release last year, Sufi Mohammad, being the Chief of TNSM, pledged to “continue his struggle for the enforcement of Shariat through peaceful means.” This is exactly what he has achieved a year later, though certainly not through peaceful means. In none of the deals that the government has reached with the local Taliban, has there been an item on the agenda to drop the demand for the imposition of Sharia in the unsettled areas rife with militancy.
It should, therefore, not come as a shock now that the deal on implementing Sharia has been reached through the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Malakand. Interestingly, there were celebrations in Swat to mark the coming of Sharia law and hopes that speedy justice would be provided according to Islamic rules. However, there was nothing un-Islamic going on in Swat earlier anyway, except for a delay of justice through regular courts. The only thing that this deal reinforces is that now a Qazi will be sitting right besides a regular judge in the courts to ensure that Islamic rules and regulations are obeyed.
In order for this deal to be successful, Sufi Mohammad will have to lobby extensively in the region to gain back his credence, which was lost at the time of his imprisonment in 2001. Having recruited millions of young followers to fight jihad in Afghanistan against the US, Sufi Mohammad had to face furious armed marchers in Swat when the recruited youth did not return from jihad. Moreover, this deal could very well be part of the government’s strategy to neutralize Fazlullah (the disowned son-in-law of Sufi Mohammad), who having taken advantage of his father-in-law’s absence due to imprisonment had established his own rule of law in Swat, swearing allegiance to Baitullah Mahsud, head of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban. It is evident that Sufi Mohammad will now want to regain his credibility in Malakand division since he has managed to get the deal in his favor twice in a year’s time, with the government’s acceptance of Sharia law in the region. This time Sufi Mohammad will not be able to make an excuse about Fazlullah creating disruptions, first because he has already been disowned once and second, because this time around, Fazlullah has come out in the open saying he respected the agreement. However, no assurance can be given on behalf of Baitullah Mehsud and his reaction towards this new agreement, especially since he is not in communication with Fazlullah, over differences over leadership styles.
How long the government can hold on to its endorsement of this deal or the Taliban will maintain the cessation of hostilities against military and local law enforcement agencies, is still uncertain. One can only hope that some concrete measures are taken to ensure that the government gets what it has bargained for this time and that it will not be cheated. The crucial question that Pakistan needs to answer, more for the benefit of its own citizens and less to please the West, is, ‘are we prepared as a nation to fight terrorism and at what cost?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ and then we should find the peace we are looking for. The cost does not matter.