I'm trying to figure out whether this is good or bad.
Pakistan is to impose Islamic law in a vast region of the north-west called Malakand in an attempt to placate extremists, even as President Asif Zardari warns that they are "trying to take over the state".
Pakistani Taliban militants who are in control of the Swat valley in the region announced a ceasefire tonight, reacting to the government's agreement to bring in sharia courts.
Malakand is part of North West Frontier province, a regular part of Pakistan, not the wild tribal area, which runs along the Afghan border.
Critics warned that the new sharia regulations represented a capitulation to the extremists' demands, and that it would be difficult to stop hardliners elsewhere in the country from demanding that their areas also come under Islamic law.
"This is definitely a surrender," said Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a thinktank in Islamabad. "If you keep treating a community as something different from the rest of the country, it will isolate them."
Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, speaking on Pakistani television, said: "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."
I think it's slightly more complicated. The legal process in this part of the Swat Valley was marked by corruption. The people in the area may prefer sharia, not of the Wahhabist variety but a Koranic interpretation of the law. Obviously, the retired judge is going to criticize it because it undermines his position.
However, this is a surrender, despite Pakistani troops outnumbering Taliban forces in the area by 4 to 1. Also, it's not a given that the residents prefer the Taliban.
"The TV channels, at first soft on the Taliban, have finally come around to seeing the terror in Swat for what it is. Swatis themselves have been intimidated into keeping silent about [self-appointed Swat ruler and extremist Maulana Fazlullah and criticising only the army and its 'collateral damage'. But the channels can no longer conceal the fact that the Swatis are now praying for America’s drone attacks in their valley as the last resort."
I am in no position to judge the truth of that statement, but if it’s even in spitting distance of accurate, that’s rather significant.
The Swatis will now live under a legal system preferred be (and in all likelihood ruled by) those same extremists who are intimidating them. The exchange here is not only supposed to be a cease-fire by the Taliban but also disarmament. We'll see how that goes.