- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Incredibly, last week’s Pakistani armistice with Islamic militants in the Swat Valley was apparently made possible in part by U.S. money that will now be used to launch attacks against U.S. and NATO forces.

Reports are surfacing that the cease-fire in Pakistan’s Swat Valley was greased with back-channel payments of $6 million to the militants from a special fund overseen by President Asif Ali Zardari’s office, which includes aid money donated by the United States. After the deal was reached, the militants vowed to stop all hostilities against Pakistani security forces and instead turn their murderous intentions towards NATO forces in Afghanistan. The $6 million payout was couched as compensation for families of those killed and injured by Pakistan’s security forces - though apparently not those victimized by the militants.

How the money will be distributed is unclear, but given the militants’ functional control of the area it will likely be used in part to underwrite their spring offensive. How ironic that peace in Swat, purchased in part by the United States, may come at the cost of American lives. This led one Pentagon observer to ask whether the U.S. was now “subsidizing safe havens.”

On the surface the Swat armistice bears all the hallmarks of what the State Department calls “Smart Power.” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has stated that the agreement to allow the reinstitution of Shariah law is part of a “Three D’s” policy: dialogue, development, and deterrence. This seems very close to Secretary of State Clinton’s Smart Power definition as utilizing “the full range of tools at [the government’s] disposal - diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural.” The Obama foreign policy team was initially publicly skeptical of the agreement - “troubled and confused” according to special representative Richard Holbrooke. But the administration has not yet suggested an alternative approach to the Swat problem, and word is beginning to surface that the State Department gave the deal private support.

During the presidential campaign, candidate Obama criticized President Bush for a too-cautious approach towards the terrorist sanctuaries in western Pakistan, saying, “If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.” But President Zardari is very realistic about the limited capabilities of his armed forces to fight an internal insurgency, lacking as they do specialized training, doctrine and equipment. He said that Pakistan has been “in denial” about the threat, and it will take time to create an effective counterinsurgency force. The hearts and minds (and checkbooks) approach in Swat came only after the military option failed.

Meanwhile, a swapping of who-is-fighting-whom-and-where is breaking out all along the Pakistan frontier. Peace is coming to Pakistan while war is shifting west to Afghanistan.

A high-level Mujahedin council met over the weekend, including such luminaries as Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who has been accused of planning the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.The militants reached agreement on winding down their fight against the government inside Pakistan in order to free up forces to move against the Coalition in Afghanistan. In Bajaur Agency, local militant leader Faqir Mohammad declared a “unilateral cease-fire in the interest of Pakistan and our region.” This is the Taliban’s answer to the 17,000 American reinforcements slated for Afghanistan - meeting surge with surge.

The Obama administration has stated that it wants a regional solution to what acronym-loving Washington insiders are now referring to as the “AFPAK” problem, but they are playing catch-up to the militants who have always viewed this struggle in regional terms. Looks like the Taliban have their own version of Smart Power.

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