The duty of a President is to protect his population from harm. A lawful and legitimate government can not go through the strife of imposing war and conflict on its population and must do whatever it takes to resolve the issues, promote peace and understanding, mediation and coexistence. In a world slowly shifting towards the most belligerent side of the balance, where violence seems to emerge from each side of the globe, every initiative for peace must be encouraged and celebrated as a proof of commitment to ancient ideals of humanism and enlightment. However, compromise is all about how much you are ready to give up in order to receive – and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will learn it the hard way.

President Ali-Zardari: living under the gun.

President Ali-Zardari: living under the gun.

Taliban militants have been brutalizing and propagating violence in the Swat Valley for the last two years. Ali-Zardari, who has always shown a keen interest in collaborating with the United States in the fight against fundamentalism to the point of allowing the US Army to build a base in Pakistan, now has his own rock and a hard place to find himself in. To his defense, Ali-Zardari tried to resist violence, pressure, boycott and lobby for as long as he could, claiming no agreement would ever be signed unless peace was first restored to Swat: but once his Parliament found itself under pressure, the debate over agreeing to the Taliban’s demands eventually took place. Their request to implement Islamic (ch’aria) law in the valley was then considered by lawmakers, this against Ali-Zardari’s will.

The National Assembly voted in favour of the deal in a huge landslide, democratically backing Ali-Zardari’s signature, even if most lawmakers knew they were under severe pressure from Taliban spokesperson. Only one party boycotted the vote. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said the “whole nation was united in support” of this deal, as judges trained in Islamic law were already set to start hearing cases on Monday. Despite the seemingly common agreement on the fact it might speed up the justice process and create a smoother and unified legal system in Pakistan, opponents to the deal firmly believe it is only a surrender to the Talibans and abandon to the face of their violence. Mahmood Shah, a security officer in Northwest Pakistan, believes Ali-Zardari only succombed to the pressure after the Talibans applied more violence to the Swat Valley only days before the vote was supposed to take place in the Parliament. “They have really forced the government to do that”, he told Yahoo!News. Lawmakers belonging to anti-Taliban party Muttahida Quami, based in the south of Karachi, will not say whether they will later be targeted by the Taliban for being outspoken in their refusal to acknowledge the new deal. The Talibans might accuse them of abandoning Islam, a claim that can result in the death penalty in some parts of the Islamic world. Upholding the rule of law in a courageous yet deadly move, Farooq Sattar, walking out of the Parliament during the voting session, said he would not accept a change “at gunpoint”.

If Pakistan otherwise shows a willingness to help the United States and the overall Western world – they have arrested another suspect in the Mumbai attack and acknowledged that a considerable part of the plan was conceived on Pakistani territory – this law deal is infuriating Western lawmakers, who see this as a further foray by the Talibans that could help them tighten their grasp in Afghanistan. If US Senator John Kerry recently visited Pakistan in a bid to increase the foreign aid to their intelligence service, it is unclear whether Al-Zardari Faustian deal will put a strain on the long-term cooperation between the United States and Pakistan, an ally that has proved priceless in their relentless quest to put the Talibans off rail in Afghanistan. One thing is for sure, the quality of life in Pakistan has declined several degrees the moment the Talibans took hold of the Swat Valley. Modernity, progress and human rights have retreated into the mountains and are not likely to come back.

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