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Pakistan’s Pandora’s box

Pakistan’s Pandora’s box

Last week, external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee implored Pakistan to curb “the licence that terrorist groups enjoy in its territory". Mukherjee’s comments were in the context of the ongoing Mumbai terror attack investigations. But Pakistan has made its intentions clear in another realm: making formal concessions to the Taliban in the Swat valley.

For long, the Pakistani security apparatus has recklessly coddled the Taliban while superficially claiming to rein them in. It’s no surprise then that after Pakistan opened Pandora’s box, it wasn’t actually able to control it. And now, the Pakistani government has agreed to imposing Shariah law on its own citizens in the Swat region.

The agreement with the Taliban reeks of poor long-term judgement on the part of the government. While the Taliban have created their own mini-state in Swat, Pakistan has relinquished the jurisdiction of its courts and administrative apparatus in the region. It’s a slippery slope: The Taliban and other terrorist groups now know the Pakistani government is willing to concede their legitimacy after enough violence. Who’s to say other groups won’t try to carve out parts of Pakistan?

Indeed, Shariah will be enforced by the ruthless Taliban, who have terrorized Swat, banning television and forcing men to grow their beards; they have even beheaded some who opposed their social norms. Surely, Pakistan owes more to its citizens. While the government claims Shariah isn’t at odds with its constitution, the move is the gasp of a failed state whose sense of identity and integration is deeply in question.

The Americans, therefore, have every right to launch their own drone attacks into Pakistani territory.

While this means the Taliban have declared a ceasefire, any formal recognition of terrorist demands will only embolden extremists. This is a frightening harbinger for a resurgent Taliban in Pakistan, which could have disastrous implications for the region and terrorism throughout the world.

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari said last week, desperately, that the Taliban had a large presence on Pakistani soil. At least Pakistan has begun to be honest about the demons it has unleashed.

Can Pakistan rein in the Taliban? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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