On Monday, a “leading Pakistani militant” was released in what the Associated Press called a “major step by the new government to talk peace with Islamic militants and break with President Pervez Musharraf‘s policy of using force.” BBC News reported, “Maulana Sufi Mohammed was arrested in Pakistan in November 2001 after returning from Afghanistan. He had led hundreds of young tribal men into Afghanistan to support the Taliban in their fight against U.S.-led forces. He was freed after being taken from his hospital bed for talks in Peshawar with the chief minister of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).” Sufi Mohammed, the chief of the banned group Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat Mohammadi (TNSM), was reportedly released under a peace agreement with tribal elders. The NWFP information minister told reporters, “Sufi Mohammed and the jirga (tribal council) have given assurances that he and his companions will remain peaceful…Our government wants all the issues to be resolved amicably through negotiations.”
BBC News detailed segments of this six-point peace agreement, reporting that it commits the TNSM movement to creating conditions for “peace and restoration of the government’s writ” in the Swat district of NWFP, where the army had been engaged in an intense struggle with militants. Under one clause of the deal, the group declared the killing of government employees, police, or military officials is “un-Islamic,” a development that is significant given the violence in the area perpetrated by followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a militant commonly known as the “Radio Mullah,” [for more background information, see this previous post]. The agreement therefore could undermine support for Fazlullah, who is a close relative of Sufi Mohammed, [the AFP specified that he is actually Mohammed’s son-in-law.]
Monday’s development could garner further credibility for the government’s negotiations with “reconcilable” militants, a policy that invited criticism from senior U.S. officials but was backed by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his recent two-day visit to Pakistan. Despite Miliband’s support for militant negotiations, (an announcement that garnered much media coverage Monday) those following the news should still remember past failed peace agreements with pro-Taliban militants. Nevertheless, this recent policy does differ in its “multi-pronged” approach to reconciliation. The AFP quoted Miliband stating yesterday, “Reconciliation does not mean creating safe space for terrorists...Reconciliation means dividing those ideologically committed to wage a war against this country or other countries, and those able to play by non-violent constitutional rules. It is about building stability and prosperity.” Whether or not the government follows through with this more comprehensive approach still remains to be seen, [Image from AFP].
Below is a news clip from the beginning of the month on Mullah Fazlullah and the fighting in Swat Valley: