Can there be a Swat pact in Afghanistan?

February 21st, 2009 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanIslamabad, Feb 21 (IANS) Can a pact between the Pakistani government and the Taliban, aimed at restoring peace in the nation’s troubled Swat valley, be the forerunner of a similar deal in Afghanistan? It would seem so from the remarks of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
At the same time, the Swat pact has exposed the sharp differences in the Barack Obama administration, with the president’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke bitterly opposed to the peace deal.

Asked whether the US would accept a similar deal in Afghanistan if the Swat pact succeeded, Gates said Friday: “If there is a reconciliation, if insurgents are willing to put down their arms, if the reconciliation is essentially on the terms being offered by the government, then I think we would be very open to that.

“We have said all along that ultimately some sort of political reconciliation has to be part of the long-term solution in Afghanistan,” Gates added, speaking on the sidelines of a NATO conference in Krakow, Poland, to discuss troop levels in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke has taken a radically different stance on the Swat deal, terming it a surrender to the Taliban that controls the region. “It is hard to understand this deal in Swat,” the envoy told CNN in an interview.

“He (Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari) does not disagree that the people who are running Swat now are murderous thugs and militants and they pose a danger not only to Pakistan but to the United States,” Holbrooke added.

“I am concerned, and I know that Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton is and the (US) president is, that this deal, which is portrayed in the press as a truce, does not turn into a surrender,” the envoy maintained.

Holbrook also said that the Swat pact “will be the top initial subject of conversation” at a tripartite conference in Washington next week to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will represent Pakistan at the conference, to be also attended by US and Afghan officials.

The government of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad Feb 16 signed a pact imposing Shariat laws in seven districts of the province - including the picturesque Swat valley that was a popular tourist destination till the Taliban took over - in return for the militants laying down their arms.

The cleric is currently in Swat for peace talks with his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, who heads the Taliban in the area.

Media reports from the region Friday spoke of a breakthrough but gave no details.

Zardari, who Sunday approved the signing of the pact, has said he would endorse it only if peace returns to the area.

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