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Denial in Pakistan

2:03 PM, Apr 10, 2009 • By BILL ROGGIO
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Spencer Ackerman passed along statements made by Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States, at a forum in Washington yesterday. Ambassador Haqqani has been a vocal critic of Islamist extremists operating in Pakistan, so it is very disappointing to see him defend the government's policy of cutting peace deals with the Taliban. Ambassador Haqqani is not being honest about the nature of these agreements, which I'll outline below:

Pakistan has not done a peace deal with the Taliban in Swat Valley. Period. Pakistan has negotiated an arrangement, locally, with the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammedi of Swat.

Ambassador Haqqani is obscuring the real nature of the TNSM. The group provided the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban and is allied with Mullah Omar. The TNSM sent more than 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to battle U.S. and Northern Alliance forces during 2001 and 2002. The forces were led by Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM. The Pakistani government banned the group, labeling it a terrorist organization, and Sufi was thrown in jail and stayed there until his release in 2007. The TNSM is still listed as a banned group. Yet the Pakistani government negotiates with this terror organization.

Here's the dirty secret the Pakistanis don't want you to know: they are using the TNSM and Sufi Mohammed as a front to negotiate with the Taliban. The government can't openly admit that it is caving to the Taliban, so it props up Sufi as a local, respected leader who claims to have eschewed violence, as a face-saving gesture. And Sufi and the Taliban are fine with that, they get what they want: control of an Islamic emirate.

The president of Pakistan has not signed the agreement and not approved the agreement yet because he's waiting for the TNSM to fulfill its end of the bargain, which was, essentially, to make sure that the Taliban - whose leader happens to be his son-in-law - they do not continue to use force. Since that has not happened, the agreement has not been enforced.

The important thing isn't whether the president signed the law into effect or not. The important thing is that the government would even consider negotiating with the TNSM in the first place, and then actively tries to obscure the nature of this group. But even if President Zardari hasn't approved the agreement, many members of the federal government support it, and the provincial government signed off on the deal. Also, the military, which is under the nominal control over the government, is respecting and endorsing the agreement.

Mullah Fazlullah, Sufi's son-in-law isn't your run of the mill Taliban leader. He's sponsored numerous suicide attacks, beheadings and other acts of terror. He actively opposes polio vaccinations for children, claiming the shots are designed to sterilize the Muslim people. And he's a senior deputy in Baitullah Mehsud's unified Pakistani Taliban movement. Sufi has openly sided with the Taliban during negotiations and after the cease fire was implemented.

Another point Haqqani is glossing over: the agreement actually is being enforced. The government established the sharia courts on March 15, the date the Taliban and the TNSM demanded. Sufi hand-selected the judges. The Taliban shut down the secular court system and continued to attack the security forces. The government willfully papered over these incidents in an effort to keep the agreement alive.

Here's what I mean when I say that the shorthand about Pakistan is based on an assumption that Pakistan is unable to change. Pakistanis went to the polls on February 18, 2008. They elected a leadership that ran on the platform saying that fighting terrorism is our first priority. They elected the party of someone who was killed by terrorists for standing up against terrorism. So the people of Pakistan, quite clearly, have a preference for fighting terrorism.

Immediately after winning the election, the Pakistani government cut peace deals with the Taliban throughout the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Many of us don't take that as a strong commitment to fight terrorism.

Does Pakistan have a complex situation, political and power equation? Absolutely. But at the same time I think we need to make distinctions and we need to understand how the various shades of grey operate in Pakistan.