Recent reporting from Pakistan has discussed an impending peace accord between the Pakistan government and Taliban forces near the Swat Valley of the North West Frontier Province. A report from the Associated Press of Pakistan states that the agreement has been reached. (And now reported by Reuters.)
According to the article, the agreement includes promises by the local Taliban to quit suicide bombings in the region, turn over heavy weapons, stop carrying small weapons in public, and assist the government in bringing humanitarian aid and stability to the region. Reportedly, the Pakistan army will begin a drawdown of the large force that it sent in to repel the Taliban/al Qaeda invasion of the Swat Valley last year. They will exchange prisoners.
The terms of the agreement strongly resemble what many in the west considered a disastrous peace accord over Waziristan back in 2006. Many commentators at the time considered the accord to be nothing but a chance for the Taliban to regroup in order to continue operations in Afghanistan, despite the inclusion of accord provisions against doing just that. As feared, that is exactly what happened back in 2006.
However, this accord has been reached under vastly different circumstances. In 2006, the Pakistan army was viewed as having been defeated or at least fought to a draw. In 2007-2008, that same army drove the militants out of Swat bringing unheard of military force to the region. Other reporting shows that even the mood of the Pakistani soldiers reflects a new confidence at their success. In addition, the situation on the world stage has changed since 2006. The impending defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, finally being noticed by even the French media (but tellingly yet to be so recognized by The New York Times) has done much to discredit the ideology of al Qaeda. Its' influence over the global Islamic jihad movement has been greatly diminished as everyone from Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, to notable Saudi clerics to noted jihadi spiritual leaders are now blasting Usama bin Laden for the defeat he has brought to their cause.
The situation in Afghanistan has changed dramatically as well. NATO is reporting progress both in terms of reducing Taliban held ground and popular support. NATO stepped up operations since 2006 and is now in the midst of a smaller surge than the one which brought such success in Iraq. The addition of 3,000 Marines and stepped up commitment by our European, Canadian and Australian allies have created room for NATO to punch into long held Taliban territories. Canadian and Australian media are reporting the offensive and success. They are now taking territories never controlled by NATO or the new Afghanistan government.
In addition, the Islamist block of the Pakistani parliament as represented by the MMA remained essentially silent as the Pakistani troops routed the al Qaeda allied Taliban in Swat. Their silence indicated a new political dynamic within the legislative block, one that is unfavorable to al Qaeda.
While there are certain elements of the reported peace accord that are unsettling, it might be wise to consider how vastly different the conditions are since 2006. All hostilities end with some type of peace agreement. Although it is tempting to be reflexively against this agreement considering its' deleterious predecessor, times have changed.
The new accord does not signal the defeat of the Taliban or al Qaeda in Pakistan. What it does, if successful, is remove yet more operating space and political/ideological support for al Qaeda in the region. It may bring former al Qaeda supporters closer to the government and away from al Qaeda. It may very well be one more stepping stone to the defeat of terrorism based in the region.Ray Robison is co-author of Both in One Trench.