Taliban Offers Indefinite Cease-Fire In Pakistan
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In the Swat Valley of northwest Pakistan, fighting has raged between the Pakistani military and the Taliban fighters who control much of the region. But a peace deal may be in the works, despite criticism that such a deal would be tantamount to surrendering to the militants. Today, the Taliban extended a cease-fire in Swat indefinitely to allow more time for negotiations.
As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the outcome depends largely on two men.
PHILIP REEVES: A strange drama is playing out in the foothills of the Hindu Kush. A very old man is trying to persuade his son-in-law to put away his guns after months of killing. The old man is a radical Muslim cleric, a battle- scarred, former fighter who says he's converted to nonviolence. The son-in-law is with the head of the Taliban in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
For months, Swat has been at war. The son-in-law's men have hanged and beheaded people. They've seized control of most of the valley, imposing draconian rule in a place that used to be a tourist playground. Their opponent, the Pakistani army, has shelled villages indiscriminately, becoming even more unpopular than the militants.
Now, while the cleric and his son-in-law negotiate, the fighting stopped - to the relief of Ahmed Shah(ph), who lives there.
AHMED SHAH: The bazaars are open. There is no curfew in the daytimes or in the nighttimes, so the people are feeling happy. They are happy because the schools have been opened. Even the girls' schools, they're allowed to open.
REEVES: The Muslim cleric's name is Sufi Muhammad. Sufi Muhammad began his peace mission a few days ago by walking into Swat's main town with a group of other bearded, elderly men, brandishing an agreement from the government in northwest Pakistan to enforce Islamic law. This is something the Taliban's always wanted.
Although Pakistan's government isn't negotiating directly, it is supporting Sufi Muhammad's mission. The United States and its allies are watching this drama unfold uneasily. Bushra Gohar is a senior figure in the ANP, the dominant party in Pakistan's northwest. She thinks a peace deal is the only option.
BUSHRA GOHAR: We've come to a point where we need to find political solutions for these problems. And we have to involve the stakeholders. We have to bring in the people's will into it. And I know there would be many concerns in the process, but as we take people along into the process, we will find solutions to the problems rather than block them.
REEVES: The contours of the peace deal are now becoming clear.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
REEVES: This week, a spokesman for Sufi Muhammad, the mediator, outlined nine key points under negotiation, from compensation to prisoner releases. But Kadeem Hussein(ph), who runs a think tank studying the conflict in Swat, says an important point's missing: There's nothing specific about disarming the Taliban.
KADEEM HUSSEIN: What they mean by police is the lack of attacks on government installations, not of laying down arms. Now, this demand is not coming from any side of the government, neither from the provincial government nor from the federal government, that the Taliban must lay down arms before any deal can be made with them.
REEVES: The peace negotiations are causing deep disagreements among Pakistanis. Some, including many residents of Swat, welcome Islamic law as a speedy alternative to a broken-down judicial system. Others, including Kadeem Hussein, think it'll lead to draconian punishments: beheadings and floggings, and the further repression of women. Hussein has another worry.
HUSSEIN: This will set a precedent for the Taliban and extremist groups inside Pakistan to extend their rule, or to extend their writ or to extend their influence to the rest of Pakistan. And I think it's quite dangerous for Pakistan, in this case, because if it extends to southern Punjab and from southern to central Punjab - so, Islamabad is not far away.
REEVES: His concerns may prove unnecessary. The Swat deal is not yet done. Many peace agreements have been made over the years in the mountains of the Hindu Kush; few have lasted long.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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