Red, White and Black

The Swat Imbroglio
3 November, 2007, 1:30 am
Filed under: Pakistan, Politics

Things have not been getting any better in Swat. By the looks of it we are going to have a Lal-Masjid-esque fiasco on our hands, again. Dawn today carried an excellent analysis of the situation in Swat. It can be read here. Some highlights:

The gem of Pakistan’s tourism that once attracted tourists from all over the world, with its roads meandering the mountainous region along the River Swat, has been swarmed with Jihadists and Islamists of all hues and shades, spearheaded by a cleric who rules the airwaves.

The problem in Swat and much of Malakand that encompasses the districts of Lower and Upper Dir, Buner, Shangla and Chitral, has been festering since 1994, when the now-defunct Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) mounted its first rebellion against the state and demanded the enforcement of Sharia in the region.

The rebellion was put down by a combination of force and political means. The problem, however, continued to simmer. Almost five years later, in 1999, the NWFP government promulgated the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation that provided for the establishment of the courts of district Qazis in place of district judges, which some believed at the time merely a change of just nomenclature than one of substance.

That, however, was not the only contributing factor to the rise of the TNSM in the region at the expense of Jamaat-i-Islami that considered Malakand as its stronghold. There were other factors as well, say the analysts, including the growing resentment amongst landless peasants against the local Khans, the huge trading community and those involved in smuggling of tax-free vehicles, to gravitate towards a movement that considered all forms of taxes un-Islamic in a region that has remained outside the ambit of taxes since the abolition of princely state and its merger into Pakistan in 1969.

The TNSM ranks and file have been infiltrated, and, according to some analysts, even led by hardcore Jihadists and militants from banned outfits who have set up their own shops and training camps in the mountainous region.

The first tell-tale sign of the militants’ presence emerged in December, 2004, when, according to security officials, militants from a banned Jihadi outfit robbed a bank in Matta. Police gave them a chase and eventually got hold of them with the help of villagers. The outfit came to be known as the ‘Peochar Group’, named after the area of their operation in Matta.

On November 9, 2006, a suicide bomber blew himself up at an army recruitment centre in Dargai in Malakand, killing 42 recruits. Investigators following a lead traced the bombing to the Peochar Group. Several arrests were made but its ring leader, a cleric, remains at large.

The district coordination officers have no legal authority to exercise powers with regards to maintenance of law and order. The elected district mayors are reluctant and too weak to take on militants while the risk of violence spilling over into the adjoining districts in Malakand looms large. There is no coordination between the nazims on the one hand, with two of them already having left their areas because of security concerns, and the district coordination officers and district police officers on the other, leaving home secretary and the provincial chief to resolve the issue.

The fact of the matter is that Fazullah has Swat by the throat. The past few days have seen two fatal attacks on the defense establishment of the country in Rawalpindi and Sargodha. The frequency of such attacks has been alarming and it is directly correlated to the deteriorating situation in the North West of the country. Over a month ago, close to 300 soldiers were taken hostage in Waziristan. They are still being held. In recent days, we have seen public beheadings of security personnel. Today, it is reported that 48 paramilitary men haver surrendered voluntarily in Swat to Fazullah’s men:

Some of the released militiamen said they had been treated well by the militants and they would not return to their force.

“We had no option but to surrender because we were running short of food and there was no reinforcement in sight,” said Rizwan, a militiaman hailing from Tank.

Another militiaman said some of their colleagues had escaped before they were captured by the militants.

Note, the report says that before releasing the miltiamen, the militants gave them a stipend of Rs. 500 to travel back to their homes! Another report states that they surrendered because they didn’t want to fight their Muslim brethren and they wanted to save the local population from attacks from the militants.

These developments lead to two critical conclusions:

  1. The writ of the state is dead. Absolutely dead. The state ignored the crisis to such a point that it is unmanageable now. Now the state flounders. The traditional policy of half a step forward and two backward is in action again.
  2. The moral of the military forces is going down. They received quite a reception upon their arrival in Swat. They have been systematically targeted since then.The local population has been fleeing. How do you continue to enforce counter-insurgency operations in the light of such developments?

The question that should then posed is this: how do you get out of this royal mess? There are no simple answers. You do need swift coordinated military action to take out the leadership of the militants, i.e. Fazullah. But what do you do about the support that he has amassed in the region? It does not help when none of the mainstream political actors are unwilling to condemn the incidents and to coordinate alternative for his support base. The damage that has been done by Fazullah cannot be undone overnight – so the prime goal at this stage has to be the re-establishment of the writ of the state in the valley, at minimal cost. That is going to be a very fine line to walk and it will not be easy to rally the troops in the light of recent events.

Another important issue is coming to head now: how do you address the growing divide in society? Perhaps, I need to rephrase that. How do you get the government to acknowledge that there is such a problem? In the absence of reformative measures, doomsday scenarios will come true. Civil conflict will become rife and spread out of the north-west. The days are not good for Pakistan and they are not going to get any better. Prepare yourself.


1 Comment so far
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Good analysis. You are so right in saying that this isn’t going away anytime soon. I’ve heard that the last time there was trouble in Swat they had to beg to Sufi Muhammad and then the militants came down from the mountains (after which they arrested him lol). The problem was/is they can’t bomb them from the air cuz they’re scattered and the army soldiers don’t know the terrain. The militants can block the roads any time they please. Its a nightmare.

Comment by Prophet Ali

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