Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Taliban Take Over Swat Valley in Pakistan: Why Nobody Seems to Care?

Over the last few months, Taliban forces have taken over the Swat Valley in Pakistan, located approximately 1o0 miles to the northwest of Islamabad, the Pakistani capital (click here to read more about the Swat Valley: The Taliban have imposed Sharia law, have closed down all schools for girls, and have bombed and torched those schools that have refused to close down. Thousands of refugees have already fled the Taliban rule and have relocated either to Islamabad or to other parts of Pakistan. In an effort to halt violence, the Pakistani government signed a truce with the Taliban forces on Feb. 16, 2009. Under the terms of this peace agreement, the Pakistani government officially recognized the imposition of Sharia law in the Swat Valley and agreed to suspend any military efforts against the Taliban. The Taliban have won! They managed to take over a strategically significant portion of the Pakistani territory with relatively little resistance from the Pakistani government and from the rest of the world. The media coverage of the Swat Valley events has been scarce (click here for media articles on the Swat Valley:,2933,494446,00.html), and only "elite" programs like NPR broadcasts and PBS shows seem to carry any policy and politics discussions on this issue. Moreover, the United Nations has been passive and none of its organs have rushed to condemn the Taliban, or the Pakistani government's passivity. NATO countries have expressed concern (and nothing more), and so has the United States, although only through "anonymous" government officials citing the delicate relations with Pakistan as reason for the absence of any official American condemnation of the Taliban actions.
Why is it that nobody seems to care about the Swat Valley? Is it simply a forgotten part of the Earth where warlords have always ruled and tribal modes of life prevail, no matter who the current leaders are and how brutal and unacceptable their reign is? Or, is it just that Pakistan as a nuclear weapon state poses too much of a threat for the rest of the world, and that the Pakistani interior policy choices seem to receive a blanket approval, no matter what? I believe the latter to be true - our "no matter what" attitude with respect to the Pakistani government's laissez faire policy toward the Taliban is based on the fact that Pakistan poses a nuclear threat. But I also believe that our attitude is wrong for many reasons.
For one, while Pakistan poses a nuclear threat in general, the Taliban expansion into yet another geographic area poses a more ominous problem. The Taliban are ruthless: they kill and behead their enemies, they harass women, and they care little about what the rest of the world thinks of them. In fact, they seem to act despite the rest of the world - to annoy, to harass, and to intimidate. Moreover, the global passivity toward the Taliban, and the Pakistani government, signals a dangerous precedent of laissez faire world politics, where separatist, fringe groups can assert themselves in all sorts of ways (including military action) without any repercussions. This kind of global passivity can only lead to the proliferation of chaos in remote areas such as eastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, and can potentially spread to other countries, like Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, only to name a few. Finally, from the perspective of human rights, letting the Taliban get away with the insurgency and violence in the Swat Valley signals that the world cares little about the respect of the human integrity, despite all the rhetoric and all the so-called protections embedded in international legal documents.
What should be the correct response toward the Taliban? Military action, either in the form of a humanitarian intervention sponsored by an alliance of willing countries, or in the form of a United Nations Security Council Chapter VII use of force against Pakistan. There is precedent for both in the recent decades (Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) and the world should not be shy about relying on it to oust the Taliban and restore a democratic rule of law throughout Pakistan.

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