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Sunday, 22 February 2009

To Al Jazeera English Talking About Pakistan and the Taliban

Invited in to talk on the live Newshour programme last evening, Al Jazeera was headlining the story I blogged about 15th February, the 'ceasefire' in the once beautiful SWAT valley (eulogistically described here) in Pakistan.

With the UN's John Solecki kidnapped recently, around 200 girls' schools closed, 20 bridges blown up, journalists killed, 80 video stores closed, 22 barbers' shops shut down and approximately 1,200 killed in recent violence, it is not suprising that roughly 500,000 Pakistanis, a third of the population, have fled the valley. Officials and civilians fear to tread there now, and because of the violence, a million children have not received their anti-polio injections. The Tehrik -E-Taliban led by Maulana Fazlullah want Sharia or Islamic law introduced into the area, and the Government which historically has in any case had little control here may have no option but to capitulate.

Keeping it in the family, feudal politics being a hallmark in Pakistan, Maulana Sufi Mohammad, Maulana Fazlullah's father-in-law, has been negotiating with the government, but it could be that the Sharia law he's talking about is not the Sharia law that the Tehrik - E - Taliban are talking about...the latter's being a slightly more hardline version.

And though the Pakistani regional commissioner announced that the ceasefire was now 'permanent,' the SWAT Taliban spokesman Musliam Khan shot back with a statement saying,

'... as far as the ceasefire from our side we can announce it on our own, and we will do that ourselves.'

The 10-day ceasefire expires Wednesday 25th February, and while I said in the studio yesterday that in any case the SWAT Talibanis have said that they are going to review events then, they have displayed their intent by kidnapping a government official, today Sunday.

But it seems that there is no need for concern. The Taliban spokesman, Khan, told Reuters,

"He [Khan] is our guest. We have to discuss some issues with him. We will serve him tea and then free him."

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