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Negotiating with the Taliban

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From Tom Ricks (Sharia law in Swat):

I know it looks like a setback but I suspect this might be a smart move. Give the people of Swat sharia law, and see how they like it. Meanwhile, bolster your security forces in the area so they can pick up the ball when the Taliban has sufficiently alienated the populace. Risky? Sure. But better than losing Swat altogether.

The issue is whether there is a long-term strategy behind some of the recent efforts by the Pakistani government to negotiate or placate radicals in the country. If the goal is to delegitimize them by giving them power that they are likely to abuse, it is very risky strategy, though one with a potentially high upside.

Unfortunately, I am not convinced that is what we are seeing.  The Pakistani government is, I think, just muddling through, focused on staving off short-term disasters rather than planning for ultimate success.

Worse, I think we need to ask, yet again, whether Pakistan’s interests on this issue mesh with our.  I suspect they don’t.  Ultimately, we are probably willing to living with an Islamist-dominated Pakistan that somehow accords its citizens a minimal level of human rights and behaves with a certain degree of restraint internationally (think Iran).  But I also suspect that existing Pakistani elites would rather remain in power, even if the cost of doing so is granting regional autonomy to violent radicals who will oppress women and tolerate or even sponsor anti-American terrorism (think of previous deals in the FATA and Northwest Provinces).

In short, in negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban, the Pakistani government is more likely to make concessions that put our interests in jeopardy than their own because despite the “with us or against us” rhetoric of the early “war on terror” our interests and Pakistan’s remain quite distinct.

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